Spring Break with the Bickersons?

Dear Robin:

I love your blog.  I heard you on the radio in Palm Springs and I’m so excited you are coming back!  Be sure to post a link so we know when to listen!

OK, I live in Palm Springs 6 months out of the year, and I live in Seattle the other 6 months.  My husband and I both have jobs that allow us to work from wherever we are, so we escape to the desert during the really rainy times of year.  Even though we are still in our 40s, our 2 kids are already in college because we had them pretty young.

Anyway, we have some good friends who still live in Seattle and who have hinted very strongly that they would like to come stay with us over Spring Break.  Our house is fairly large so putting them up with their one child isn’t a problem, but they fight.  They fight a lot, Robin!  I hate it.  It was one thing to hang out with them over dinners when we all lived in Seattle, because once in a while they could make it through an evening without sniping at each other.  But I know they can’t make it more than a day, and they want to come for a whole week.

What do I do?  I love my friends and I don’t want to seem ungracious, but being around people who argue all the time makes me and my husband feel very on edge.  Maybe I should invite them and ask them not to argue?  

“Molly” in Cathedral City

Dear Molly:

Once again Portland Public Schools are closed for the day and I am currently in charge of three 12 year-old boys, which means I need to write this quickly lest I stop paying attention to what they are doing and my house is burnt to the ground or one of the dogs is molested.

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Before I give you my advice, I would like to take a moment to say congratulations on living the dream.  Your kids are gone, you spend half your time in a sunny lovely place and the other half in a city almost as cool as Portland.  I envy you deeply, yet I am working on a plan to emulate you.  Please email me if you would like to visit when I am in town in March.  By the way, I will be on the radio March 26 at 8:00 a.m. on KNEWS radio, so yay!

Your problem’s solution is pretty simple.

1. Do not invite them to stay with you.  When you and I chatted over email, I asked if either you or your husband were children of divorce.  As it turns out, you both come from broken families and parents who fought constantly until their divorce and then long afterward.

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By the way, I’d like to congratulate you on what you described as a very happy marriage.  That is so cool that you and your husband emerged from difficult childhoods and found lasting love with each other.

Gag.  Sorry for the sentimentality.

OK, here’s the deal: nobody likes being around couples who argue a lot, but us kids of divorce REALLY don’t like it.  When we chatted you described a sinking feeling and immediate onset of sadness when your friends argue.  That’s a re-run of the shit your parents put you through and that bubbling up of bitter memories is not something you should have to endure.

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It’s a little awkward because they know you have a large home (you bitch) but I don’t necessarily recommend telling them why they can’t stay with you (more on that in a moment).  So, here is my solution: lie.  Lie your fucking head off.  Tell them your kids are coming home during that week, and then avoid having your friends at the house.

Or, you could just give them an update every day: “Damn that Timmy and Alison, they said they would be coming in with friends but their plans just keep changing!  So frustrating!”

In order to avoid having these people stay in your home, I would even go so far as to begin a remodeling project in whatever rooms they expect to occupy.  Do something, do anything to get around hosting these people.  Send them this:

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I think you get the point.

2. You asked me if you should bring up this subject with them prior to their visit.  My answer to that question may surprise you if you are a regular reader.  While I am usually prone to encouraging folks to be open and honest in their relationships, I don’t suggest you do that here.  Why?

These people already know they bicker, and they already know it is rude.  They don’t care.  They are more invested in hurting and humiliating each other in front of an audience than they are in having a good time and making their friends feel relaxed and comfortable in their company.

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I speak from personal experience when I tell you that if you broach this subject with your friends, it will likely not end well.  This is especially true because you and your husband get along great and never argue in front of other people.  Being called out on bad marital behavior by someone in a happy marriage will create tension, envy and anger and it just isn’t worth it.

Rather than a heart-to-heart come to Jesus talk, I’d suggest public shaming.  

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Here’s how it works:

Since you told me you will be having dinner with these fine people, I suggest you call them out on their behavior as it happens.  For example, if she starts bitching that he doesn’t make enough money, I’d say, “wow – it must be really hard for your husband to hear you say that, especially in front of us.  Stop it or I’ll make you pay for dinner!”

Rinse, repeat.  This may result in their behavior changing, but I doubt it.  If it does, you can reconsider whether you want to have them stay with you on a future trip, but I suggest limiting the visit to no more than two days as you test the waters.

Good luck!

-Robin

This Post Has One Comment

  1. The Yetti

    Thank you! I too am friends with the Bickersons. When they get going, my head implodes, I want to hold it and rock back and forth…or Monkey Roll out of the car (a lot of fighting goes down in the car). I love them both and what a compliment that I am close enough to them that they have no trouble letting it fly around me! Appreciate the advice, it confirms my instinct to NOT have a come to Jesus talk.

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