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Okay, it's me again, and I'm still chewing over a couple of things. Not that I'm compulsive. Much.

burger_eater said: As for talking about relationship problems, I know friends who have done it, but it has to be *very* serious to go there. We talk about problems, but if it's a problem with our spouse, it'd be a betrayal of our relationship.

The interesting thing about this, and the reason I'm mulling over it? It's true. I have my own gender biases, obviously, and I'm not aware of all of them -- but if a female friend complains to me about her spouse (any gender spouse), I will commiserate, or often come up with a similar tale of woe (dishes. leaving the gas barbecue turned on for 7 hours. not shopping with a list and, well.) If it's a more serious problem, I will listen, and I will give any advice they seek, if they seek it. I do not, however, in any of this, consider the discussion about the spouse to be a betrayal of their relationship.

However... (you knew there was a catch)...

If a male acquaintance is actively complaining about his wife in the same way, my reaction is different. I do not come up with similar complaints or incidents if the complaint is minor. And unless I know the complainee pretty darned well? I have difficulty listening to much of it. If I do know them well, they fall under the rubric (for me) of little brother, in which case, it's fine. Which implies that in some way, I do consider the male version of this to be said betrayal.

Which I realize is wrong. If the discussion is serious, it doesn't bother me as much, for some reason. And no, I'm not sure why I have this reaction, but I think in part its because I've observed what burger_eater has mentioned in action, and I've internalized it. Or possibly I'm not as comfortable with the discussion crossing the gender divide. I have to think about this a bit more. (I'm still thinking about it now).

But I have issues with a certain type of condescending humour in a relationship anyway. There's the usual teasing (which I undergo all the time because I may have slight difficulties reading things like maps or noticing minor details like one-way streets), and there's always some affection in that, and that's all good. There is the usual frustration, and the complaints that come from that. But the type of 'humour' to which 'you can't take a joke' is the only response when any attempt at discussion is offered? I hate that. Loathe it. I think it is, if not curbed, relationship doom in the making.

Umm, yes, that was a digression. Sorry.

That's what annoyed me about Gottlieb, honestly. She treated her friends, who just needed to vent about the usual everyday annoyances that come from living with someone for years, as if they'd "settled." Has she never had a relationship? Even the best of them, between Mr. and Ms. Right For Each Other, have stresses and points of conflict. Sometimes people need to vent safely to their friends.

I think the venting is important in context. I think she's bitter about any complaint at the moment because she is without a spousal support system (at her own choice), and in her defense -- not that she needs it -- it's a bit like complaining about your toddler to people who have been trying for seven years to conceive, and have gone through every invasive procedure and every hormonal treatment they legally can, without any luck. Yes, they're your friends. Yes, they should be there while you let off needed steam. But... as their friend, there are things that you shouldn't ask of them.

I admit that I don't vent about my husband to my friends that my husband hasn't heard first, but that's me (and there's every chance that he might prefer the venting to friends, sans the small blasts at which he is ground zero).


ETA: Writing post soonish, sorry for wibbling...

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
phantom_wolfboy
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:49 am (UTC)
What if it was a gay male friend, complaining about his husband? Or, for that matter, a female same-sex couple? Would that change anything?
msagara
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:52 am (UTC)
What if it was a gay male friend, complaining about his husband? Or, for
that matter, a female same-sex couple? Would that change anything?


Lesbian couple doesn't change my reaction at all. I have no idea whether or not a gay male friend would engender the same off reaction, though; I can't think of an instance of it in which the partner was not also present, and the tone of a complaint with partner present is more of the affectionate teasing than the genuine annoyance.

Understand that I'm not saying the difference in my own reaction is a good thing, but I was surprised when I did think about it.
phantom_wolfboy
Mar. 20th, 2008 02:36 am (UTC)
Understood. I was just curious. Also, whenever someone brings up that sort of gender-different reaction, I find myself wondering how queer relations affect that.
rosefox
Mar. 19th, 2008 04:31 am (UTC)
This is totally foreign to me, but that may be because I grew up hanging out with queers and polyfolk. Hell, I met my now-husband on alt.polyamory, a forum basically dedicated to discussing relationship problems and how to fix them. You mean there are people who don't talk to their friends about their relationships? That's like parents who won't argue in front of their children!

I should note, though, that the important context for me is two big assumptions:

1) The purpose of one of my partners talking to a friend about our relationship issues is to ask the friend's help or advice (even if the only help needed is "let me whine about this so that the next time I see [partner] I will be capable of discussing this reasonably") or to support the friend in dealing with similar issues.

2) I will hear about any big complaints that my partner has about me or our relationship, and they will be brought up in a responsible and reasonable way.

A partner having a big problem with me and not telling me? Not cool. A partner bad-mouthing me to others without presenting it as something they need to come to terms with or we need to work together on fixing? Not cool. Fortunately, in my little subculture that sort of asinine, dishonest behavior is very far from the norm, and in my relationships it would be completely unthinkable. Is it more common in the more mainstream world?

EDIT: Actually, there's a third big assumption, which is that my partner is at least as eager to talk about the good stuff as the bad stuff. A partner telling friends when I fuck up and never telling them when I get things right would make me very unhappy, and yes, would feel like a betrayal. Again, though, that's unthinkable, especially as one of the things I look for in a partner is an attitude of celebrating even the smallest everyday joys in life.

Edited at 2008-03-19 04:33 am (UTC)
msagara
Mar. 19th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
You mean there are people who don't talk to their friends about their relationships? That's like parents who won't argue in front of their children!

I don't generally talk about specifics of mine with my friends, fwiw, unless it serves a useful function. If they're going through something I've gone through, or if a joint issue has arisen and been resolved, I'll put that out there, but in general, not so much. Actually, that would fit the second part of context 1.

There's no context 2, though; I hear about things (or start discussions) with my partner if there are issues, or he'll bring them up. I can't think of an instance in which big complaints came from a third party, no matter how close we both are to that party.

But I'm not sure how your context 2 blends with A partner having a big problem with me and not telling me? Not cool. A partner bad-mouthing me to others without presenting it as something they need to come to terms with or we need to work together on fixing? Not cool. as stated after?

Fortunately, in my little subculture that sort of asinine, dishonest behavior is very far from the norm, and in my relationships it would be completely unthinkable. Is it more common in the more mainstream world?

I would guess no, based on the idea that discussing major issues is considered a betrayal of the relationship?

But I'm not sure I ever feel entirely part of a nebulous mainstream, so I can only really speak to things I've done or seen.
rosefox
Mar. 19th, 2008 04:50 am (UTC)
Oh, by #2 I mean I'll hear about it from my partner, and that venting to a friend should not be a substitute for talking to me about anything that required my input or help. The friend would be welcome to mention it, but that shouldn't be the first time I hear that there's anything wrong.
msagara
Mar. 19th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)
Oh, by #2 I mean I'll hear about it from my partner, and that venting to a friend should not be a substitute for talking to me about anything that required my input or help.

I read it as the exact opposite meaning, the first time I did the read-through; it makes much more sense now.

(Deleted comment)
msagara
Mar. 19th, 2008 06:24 am (UTC)
I tend to think that venting can serve as a safety valve if there are small annoyances that of themselves aren't serious, or that likely won't be changed--it's just nice to blow off steam sometimes IF the person you're blowing off steam to understands that that is what you're doing and doesn't make it other than what it is.

Absolutely. It's what most of my female friends will do -- in fact, they vent more than they offer praise. You know they're doing exactly that, and you know they're not telling you something with the expectation that it will materially harm your opinion of their spouse.

But on the very rare occasions that men vent about little things that annoy/infuriate them in a relationship -- maybe it's something about me-- to me, it has a different feel. Or maybe I feel differently about it.



Edited at 2008-03-19 06:25 am (UTC)
rowyn
Mar. 19th, 2008 12:43 pm (UTC)
I really don't like complaining about an SO to a third party, and definitely not complaints that haven't been aired to the SO first.

The last part almost goes for all friendly relationships. If you have a problem with someone, you ought to talk to that person about it first, as a very broad generalization.
aveareya
Mar. 19th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
I think that friendly venting about trifles is a fine thing, but I've found that with either sex if they are willing to really complain - in a way that others might lose respect for their SO - the relationship is probably over. Not if they are 'really complaining' to a close friend. That means there are issues and the friend may help, but to the general populace? I've not been around guys so much that go out side the venting of trifles (always gets lost, forgets what she's saying :)). The ones that go outside of that, I generally already see as jerks. Hmm - I have a cold and may be babbling.
burger_eater
Mar. 19th, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)
But... as their friend, there are things that you shouldn't ask of them.

How right you are, and I'm usually more sensitive to that sort of thing. I think I blanked out while reading that part of the article (or had a failure of empathy, which also happens more than I'd like).

Which implies that in some way, I do consider the male version of this to be said betrayal.

If I were to guess at the cause of this (and by "guess" I mean "extrapolate from my own feelings onto the whole of the human race/western culture"--which I'm pretty sure is why the internet was invented) I'd blame it on the feeling of power imbalance in the relationship. A husband's willingness to say nasty things about his wife tickles the "this guy is cruel to his wife" nerve. What husband wants to be that dude?

Along with that is the idea that the husband is supposed to protect his wife. Not just by, you know, not publicly attacking her, but by not spreading information that give other people cause to gossip.

Going the other way, when a wife gripes about her husband, it's not as terrible because her words are not as threatening. Power imbalance.

Probably I'm just full of crap, though.
msagara
Mar. 19th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
If I were to guess at the cause of this (and by "guess" I mean "extrapolate from my own feelings onto the whole of the human race/western culture"--which I'm pretty sure is why the internet was invented) I'd blame it on the feeling of power imbalance in the relationship. A husband's willingness to say nasty things about his wife tickles the "this guy is cruel to his wife" nerve. What husband wants to be that dude?

I almost hate to say that I think this is spot on, because I in theory don't think there is a power imbalance in relationships -- but obviously, on some level, I'm reacting to a perceived imbalance in pretty much just the way you've extrapolated.

Along with that is the idea that the husband is supposed to protect his wife. Not just by, you know, not publicly attacking her, but by not spreading information that give other people cause to gossip.

And this too. All of which has given me things to think about, or to work at.

I was thinking that in some ways, wives venting about husbands is a by-product of the way in which we're pressured to pay attention to small details. Growing up, it was -- in the large extended family -- the women who were responsible for all the fiddly little things that made the household run, and they would get so very frustrated because their husbands simply did not pay attention, or care, about those details. So venting let off steam about the little things.

I definitely see the words or the venting as less threatening when women do it, but I didn't see it as part of that power imbalance. So... something to think about, because if my reaction is "this guy is cruel to his wife" on the one hand, it probably does mean the other hand exists in my subconscious worldview.

Probably I'm just full of crap, though.

Well, if you are, it's thoughtful crap, and I find it helpful.

burger_eater
Mar. 20th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
... I in theory don't think there is a power imbalance in relationships -- but obviously, on some level, I'm reacting to a perceived imbalance in pretty much just the way you've extrapolated.

Whenever there is a conflict between two people, the physical stuff is always there. Even if both sides despise it and would never turn to violence, even if it goes against everything they believe, the difference in physical strength is always there. (And usually in the guy's favor.)

I know. This sort of conversation can venture into pretty unpleasant subjects. It was on my mind a lot when I first started dating Salad Eater--something about her body language made me think I needed to prove that our relationship was a safe place for conflict.

Growing up, it was -- in the large extended family -- the women who were responsible for all the fiddly little things that made the household run, and they would get so very frustrated because their husbands simply did not pay attention, or care, about those details.

This is pretty interesting and not something I've thought much about. Thanks. And thanks for inspiring the new subtitle for my LJ. :)
book_wench
Mar. 23rd, 2008 06:11 am (UTC)
For me, it depends entirely on my relationship with the person who is venting, and in this context I note that you refer to a female "friend" but a male "acquaintance." Not being paired up with anyone myself, I have a couple of close male friends and their venting doesn't bother me any more than does that of my female friends. However, if you're only an acquaintance, then IMO I'm not the person you should be venting to about the fact that your husband leaves the top off the toothpaste tube. Well, unless you're telling it as a humorous anecdote, in that fond way that couples have when describing each other's quirks.

So I guess I don't feel a man is bad-mouthing his wife if he vents a little, so long as he and I are close enough. I have no idea whether being single affects this attitude at all, although I'm certainly wondering about that now.
msagara
Mar. 23rd, 2008 06:20 am (UTC)
For me, it depends entirely on my relationship with the person who is venting, and in this context I note that you refer to a female "friend" but a male "acquaintance."

I have a lot of male friends, but in general, they don't vent about their spouses, and actually, if they did, it wouldn't bother me as much, because it would have that "in-family" feel. It does bother me if I don't know the guy all that well.

But it doesn't bother me if I don't know the woman all that well; I think, though, that burger_eater is right; on some level, I respond to it as if it were unnecessary cruelty or almost bullying behaviour (and I have a fairly strong knee-jerk reaction to bullying, and in a way that I don't respond if a female acquaintance with whom I'm not that close does the same. I'm still thinking about this, because I don't actually like that I have these two very different reactions.

So I guess I don't feel a man is bad-mouthing his wife if he vents a little, so long as he and I are close enough. I have no idea whether being single affects this attitude at all, although I'm certainly wondering about that now.

That, I'm not sure about; I'm not sure how much of my reaction is to the sense of power in the relationship, but I think if it is mostly due to that (as I suspect it is), it wouldn't be affected by whether or not I was married.
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