Why Don’t Couples Tell the Truth?

Category: Weekly Columns

 truth

A scenario: two couples are going out for dinner together. As each couple is getting ready they have a typical marital fight. It escalates on the drive to meet the other couple at the lovely restaurant they’re going to. When they arrive, they each angrily slam the door on the car and storm into the restaurant. Upon seeing the other couple, happy faces appear, and they end up having a nice evening.

After the dinner, the following dialogue takes place in each car of the two couples. Reverse the husband or wife, since it makes no difference because this is not a gender-based concept/idea:

Wife (aka DU): Well, that was a nice evening.
Husband (aka BJ) (grumbling): Yeah.
Wife: Did you see how Hank treated Susie?
Husband (not paying attention): Huh?
Wife: He treated her like a goddess! Why can’t you be more like him?
Husband (finally waking up): I’ll be like him when you look at me the way Susie looks at Hank, with love and respect.
Wife (grumbling): Harumpf…

Recognize yourself somewhere in this scenario? My simple question is what would happen if these two couples actually shared the problems and/or arguments they were having with the other couple friends? Might there be a scene like this:

Hank: Hey, it’s great to see you guys! How are you, BJ and DLU?
DLU: Good to see you, too Hank (as she kisses Susie on the cheek).
Susie: I miss you two. How are things with the kids?
BJ: Well, since you asked we’ve been struggling a bit lately.
Hank: Really, so have we. What’s going on?
DLU: Well, I think BJ favors the boys over me and is spoiling them rotten.
Susie: WOW, we just argued about exactly that on the way here!
(Everyone laughs…a bit in discomfort).
Hank: It’s hard in a blended family to choose whom to support when everyone seems to want a piece of me!
DLU: I think the spouse should come first. After all, the kids are going to leave…then what?
Susie: I agree with DLU (gives a look to Hank).
BJ: C’mon Susie, it’s not easy or simple.
Susie: I suppose you’re right (takes Hank’s hand in a conciliatory gesture).
DLU (looking at BJ): I know you try, honey, I just feel left out some of the time.
BJ: I’m sorry darling, but you know how much I Iove you, and the teen years are a bear!

Get it? Wouldn’t both couples feel better? I don’t care what the problem is. If we actually open up and stop pretending all is well and good, everyone will learn and benefit. The hot-button topics for most couples are the kids, money, and sex. I’d add a fourth: time spent together or one spouse working too much. Those two are really one thing as they obviously relate.

Let’s say, as unusual as it may be, that you and your spouse haven’t had sex in a while – imagine that? Wouldn’t you take some comfort knowing that you’re not alone? We all know that many couples go through ups and downs with their intimacy. Maybe a hint or just commiseration with another couple would help? It won’t hurt and THAT is my main point!

If the problem is money, one couple may actually have concrete advice to offer. On any problem with kids, experience is always a great tool and the couple with older kids may have already gone through the problem that the other couple is currently experiencing.

Putting on a happy face has its place. Ironically, I think that the most important time for that – for couples and just for you – is when one is in a foul mood for no particular reason. People do not like being around grumps. So, put on a happy face and when your mood has passed, you’ll be better for it and not have subjected your spouse or anyone around you to that sour puss!

Why do we feel the need to keep our real lives secret from our friends? I heard a saying from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who quotes his mother as expressing that, “the only happy people I know are people I don’t know very well.” I love that quote and I think it’s so very true. Most of us would not trade our problems with anyone else’s. To keep going on with the sayings, I remember another where it’s said something to the effect that if people all throw their troubles into a big pile, they’d look them over, and take back their own ones.

That is why there is such value if friends open up to one another and couples do the same. Being a bit sexist, I would assert that women tend to open up more easily to other women than men to each other. But, couples are another thing altogether and I believe we’d all help each other a ton by just expressing the truth of our lives. The good, too since no one wants to go out and spend an evening whining…

Why not try it? Please let me know what happens…

  • http://twitter.com/mpax1 MPax

    An interesting social experiment 🙂

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

       Try next time you go out with another couple and let me know how it goes!?

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  • http://twitter.com/nightrainmoon13 Alyse Cranson

    I’m not in a position to test the couple thing out,but you’re right about people covering up situations. I saw this many times,with my parents. Arguing about something ’til the doorbell rang, or one of them got a phone call. There was that look that said, ‘cut’. Smiles and inside voices will now be used. haha I think the major reason people don’t share, is no one want’s to admit things aren’t going well. I think they see it as a weakness, a flaw. I think you’re right though, talking it out with friends would be helpful, as long as you use inside voices in public. 🙂

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

       Yes Alyse, it’s embarrassing so most people cover it up!

  • http://storywiseguy.com/ Chris Buckley

    I think one of the challenges, too, is the decline of the couple friendship. Certainly here in Silicon Valley, I think the trend of marriage later in life (if at all) leaves most couples friends individually with already established guy- or girlfriends that have no other connection to one another. 

    In this situation, intergenerational friendships may serve as a helpful proxy.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      You are SO right Chris. My wife and me have fewer “couple” friends than we remember having in our past…and often we wonder why? Another idea worth exploring/discussing!

  • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

    Think it is probably better to find “mentor couples” where that is the expectation of all parties – or have a long standing relationship with a couple where you can be more transparent. Otherwise, you definitely put the other couple on the spot and possibly imply there is a “picking of sides” involved. You may end up with more than one couple going home unhappy!

    And even though our arguments are rare, we have put on our happy faces for an occasion, and then revisited our discussion afterwards. The good news is that the extra time away from the heat of the moment allows us to reflect on both sides of the argument/debate…so we are much more agreeable and open to compromise.

    Do not let the sun go down on your anger…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      THAT is a great idea…not easy to find, but a GREAT idea, BV! Will you be our mentor couple?

      I sooooo agree with your words, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger…” and just wish my wife agreed!

      • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

        When it comes to mentoring, we are more the “lifestyle evangelism” couple – we just try to live it and model it every day. I’m a decent listener, and my wife is an exceptional listener, so she is already doing a great job with mentoring other ladies without calling it that.

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          Huh, what was that?

  • http://twitter.com/ebuttscpa EB

    Bruce, this example of the couples sharing problems works very well when both couples have had the same experience, but I believe the issue of this topic is that couples feel they’re other friends will not be able to relate, which will result in an embarassing situation, so the response is to put on a facade. If we could create a “safe space” for this type of sharing then I would agree with your theory that both couples will fell better as a result of the open sharing you describe.

    This post actually reminds me of something I read maybe a year ago, describing what I would say is a similar issue for people on FB. The claim was that people on FB are less happy than those that aren’t, because they are looking at their “friends'” statuses and how “happy” they are, wondering why they can’t be as happy.

    Unfortunately, this trend seems likely to get worse before it gets better. As is often the case, the solution seems simple conceptually but implemenation presents quite the challenge.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      If we can’t be “safe” with our friends, then who can we be safe with? Interesting points EB…it’s obviously NOT SIMPLE!

  • http://reallycooldad.com/ Stephen

    Hi Bruce. Have you seen the mebeinghonest.com blog? Some guy is trying to be completely honest for a whole year, and reporting back on his experiences. He’s taken this experiment to it’s ultimate end; I haven’t read enough of his posts to know how many people respect him for it, or how many enemies he’s made.

    As I think through the ‘truth’ conundrum, I keep wondering about the difference between truth and opinion. The later, while possibly truthful, is dangerously subjective. The intent behind truthful statements is an important distinction.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      What was that Jim Carrey movie where he couldn’t tell a lie? No, I haven’t seen that guy…but would love him to join us tomorrow night! I agree that opinion and truth can get confused!

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  • David Weber

    These are good insights into an enduring problem.  After how many millennia of human existence, you’d think we’d have got this right by now.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Some things NEVER change, David!