I hear about it week after week, month after month. From men and women. No, it is not affairs. Here’s what it is:
“When we are home together, life is great. But when we are with friends, family, workmates, bosses (take your pick—all are mentioned by various clients of all ages), he/she does things that make me want to hide under a table, or better yet, run.”
The examples are endless…
A thirty-something bride with a demanding PR job has recently married. “It took me so log to find him,” she explains. “He is kind, hard working and great in bed. But when he is with my friends or co-workers, he is forever saying stupid things and acting like a total jerk. He’s asked my friend who is desperate to have children, what she is waiting for. He’s gone to my boss’s house, reached across the table for bread and spilled red wine all over a white table cloth.”
A successful psychologist, who after “an abysmal and empty marriage,” is happily married to a construction worker. She explains: “I adore being with him. We have fun, love to travel, have great conversations, are good to each other’s kids, enjoy the same movies. But when he is with my friends he either clams up or talks in ways he never talks to me. He makes fun of others. He tells crude jokes. I just don’t get it.”
A 28 year old client consulted me because his fiance humiliated him at a recent wedding, where he was best man. The bride, a youthful and attractive 38 year old, was about 5 years older than the groom. My client’s fiancé asked the bride publicly at the rehearsal dinner how many men she had been with before she found Dr. Right.
“I love my husband,” confided a 50 year old client I worked with about a year ago. “But we are only happy when we are together or with our children. My husband hates to socialize with others. If I insist he does, he is eitherp rude or refuses to speak.”
In these above situations, 1 of 3 things is usually going on:
- The most dangerous is a form of emotional abuse known as “social isolation.” In this “acting out”, one partner has a desperate need to control and does everything possible to isolate his or her partner form all other rewarding interaction. In this kind of situation, one needs to consult a professional for direction. Trying to discuss how this feels with this kind of partner, can lead to physical violence, against you and your children.
- A second reason for this behavior is not having learned social skills as a child and feeling anxious and “all thumbs” when in a social situation.
- The third reason is unresolved family conflicts stirred up in unfamiliar situations, causing rude or insensitive behavior. For example, one with a rejecting parent can want to be accepted so badly by those seen as important to a partner that he or she stops using judgment. They freeze and acts in ways never intended. Or, one who had a very controlling parent can “act out” toward this parent by refusing the give and take of marriage, not realizing what he or she is doing is hurting a partner.
When one does not know any better, or is acting out unresolved issues, honest conversation can lead to positive change. Knowing you are loved and hearing it improves the confidence to learn new social skills. And there are also professionals to consult to help this along. That being said, it is always a good idea to know one as well as possible before a commitment is made. We cannot change one we marry. Change must come from the person himself or herself.
The fifty year old client I described earlier decided during our work together that there was more good in her marriage than bad. Because her husband truly hated social evenings that were not family oriented, they decided that she would socialize with friends without him. This has worked out very well for all.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Mar 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Are Your Partner’s Social Skills Embarrassing?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/03/24/are-your-partners-social-skills-embarrassing/