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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Arguing in Public

Uploaded: Dec 23, 2014
I went for a walk out at Princeton Point near Half Moon Bay the other day. The rain had stopped after pouring the night before, and it was damp and fresh. I watched a snowy egret digging for lunch, a powered parasail fly overhead, saw dogs, surfers, couples and families.

Pretty soon I heard a couple walking behind me, arguing in public. Nasty tones. You said this . . . No, you said that . . . You didn't call me . . . I didn't know . . . You sniped at me . . . You should've . . .

These are all the phrases and ways of communicating that I don't allow in my office. Can you imagine listening to that all day? Well, maybe you can. Maybe you do. Maybe it's in your house. I'm sorry, if that's true. I don't allow that in my office, because we have to do things differently in order to re-wire our brain to healthier communication.

These types of arguments solve nothing, and leave both parties feeling lousy and resentful. Do you think they went home, had a glass of wine and enjoyed sex after that? No, I don't think so either.

These public arguments are painful to hear from out here, and likely worse from inside there. Usually it's because we have a need that is not being met: to be heard, to be seen, respected, valued, not fixed, etc.

We can learn to say it in a healthy way: I don't feel heard right now. Please listen and don't fix this for me; I need a sounding board right now.

Notice when the word "You" comes out of your mouth. What goes with it? How does that work out?

We are rocks in a tumbler, taking off the rough edges and polishing one another.

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 4:21 pm

The biggest problem with these sort of transgressions is that they negatively affect innocent bystanders, most of whom have zero interest in your personal problems.

This is basically dumping your personal garbage in a public park.

Sure, people have problems, big or small, but a public venue like Princeton Point is not the place air these issues, at least not in a respectful way to your neighbors. If you want to be selfish, go right ahead, but you could of had the same nasty conversation in your car in the parking lot, *BEFORE* you got out of the car to walk on the footpath.

This is similar to arguing at a restaurant, although restaurant patrons *PAY* for the privilege of dining at someone else's table. YOU ARE NEGATIVELY IMPACTING THE LIFE EXPERIENCE OF AN INNOCENT BYSTANDER.

I'm sad to say that I've had a table full of family members commence bickering at an upscale restaurant on a festive occasion. I *HISSED* at them and threatened to walk out of the restaurant if they didn't IMMEDIATELY SHUT UP, pointing out that other diners had uncomfortably noticed the discord. The other diners were in that restaurant trying to have a good time and paying THEIR HARD EARNED DOLLARS FOR IT.

My family members all dutifully promptly shut their mouths and focused their attention on the food. They apparently had nothing pleasant to say, for the rest of the meal was conducted in silence, something that the other diners likely noticed. That group of family members never attempted to dine together in public again.

If you dump your garbage onto the street, you will be judged by your neighbors for what they see there.

Heck, some of the people in your house will do the same.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 4:37 pm

I should clarify that I am perfectly fine with conversing with these family members individually, in private about their concerns, worries, insecurities, challenges, whatever. Of course, in a one-on-one conversation, it is much easier to control how a discussion develops.

I simply refuse to be put in a public situation with them collectively where they are allowed to poison the experiences of other people. Clearly this Princeton Point couple is cut from the same cloth as these particular family members of mine.

As far as I'm concerning, people are free to use "you" as an accusatory pronoun in an argument. The problem is forgetting "I" or "We" (or in this case "Them").


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by no one is perfect, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 7:41 pm

You make valid points, but I think it's a really good idea in general not to judge people based on a single interaction. Everyone has bad days. That conversation may have been forgotten the next day. For some people, if there is no opportunity to let loose, things fester and it's much worse later. Sometimes people's inhibitions are lower because of medications (a medication a friend was taking with a side-effect of aggression destroyed a friendship in college beyond repair). I took a diet pill not long ago that I found made me noticeably emotionally volatile -- but you only know that after you experience it. No one seems willing to own up to the pot-throwing aspect of some women's menopause anymore, but it doesn't mean people don't experience it. There can be many explanations. It could also be that they are unhealthy in their relationship and headed for divorce. But if we don't know them, who are we to judge, even if they are so wrapped up in the conflict they argue in public. I don't make a habit of arguing in public but can I say I never have? No. To live is to forgive.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Yes, clearly people are not perfect.

My point is that some people have a frequent habit of dumping their garbage in public. Sure, accidents happen, but if you are involved in too many of them, the DMV will revoke your license.

Sadly, there is no way to revoke people's ability to argue in public if they are repeat and regular offenders.

That's why I told that group of my own family members to end their public shenanigans because I had been witness to it too many times. They were simply being *rude*, not just having a bad day (and they certainly weren't on meds).

Anyhow, Merry Christmas everyone!


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Yuk, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 2:39 pm

What an unpleasant article and subsequent conversation... :(
Can't we have some compassion? At least the couple is talking to each other!


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Agenda, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Yuk-- I agree. A completely judgemental and unsympathetic posting by chandrama. If I ever need a therapist, I will avoid her.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 27, 2014 at 9:46 am

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

I mean I am sad for them to communicate in this way as they don't have other tools handy.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Yuk, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 27, 2014 at 10:08 am

Re-read the blog posting and highlight all of the positive, constructive things the blogger wrote, which to this reader is all of one paragraph:

"We can learn to say it in a healthy way: I don't feel heard right now. Please listen and don't fix this for me; I need a sounding board right now."

Everything else is criticism with very negative overtones. This sentence, "These are all the phrases and ways of communicating that I don't allow in my office. Can you imagine listening to that all day?" informs me that the blogger is venting about the frustrations of being a counselor: "Can you imagine listening to that all day?"

It would be beneficial to the blogger if they were to re-write the article and re-balance the message. Instead of 90% negative and venting, flip it around and make it 20% criticism to set the message and 80% on what to do or how the communication should be. Even if it were not published, ought to help be instructive to the author.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 28, 2014 at 9:58 am

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

I'm glad for your feedback, and that you re-read the post. The reason I don't let couple's talk this way (argue) in my office is that it builds more neural pathways for them to talk this way to one another. I have them talk in new ways and that builds new, healthier neural pathways.
I think it is hard to be in one's head with pain and negativity; that's why people come to counseling. To heal, and learn new ways to treat themselves and each other.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Agenda, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 28, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Here you fo chandrama:
LINK REMOVED You can read how the nervous system works and learn to use the term " neural pathways" properly.

Just admit you really put your foot in it by being cruel and judgemental and very unprofessional.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 28, 2014 at 9:42 pm

I'm not a fan of this modern no anger, all "I" statement, if we just listen to one another all will be well stuff. But I've got to say that I find Agenda's and Yuk's statements insensitive in the extreme.

Judgmental, negative, venting? Cruel, unprofessional? Give me a break! Chandrama is just expressing her opinion, and doesn't deserve this kind of abusive talk.

Maybe the arguing couple would go home and have a glass of wine and even enjoy sex. Who knows? Chandrama could be wrong. But she does have a right to set the rules for her sessions. And snide comments about "neural pathways?" I'd rather hear a public argument...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Yikes, a resident of another community,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 3:12 pm

This whole thread, from blog entry to finish, seems a bit negative. Actually, I found the original blog post to be a little patronizing and idealistic. Everyone has arguments, and it is naive to think that a perfect stranger with a background in therapy knows all the answers. I think it is okay for people to have a heated disagreement now and then, using whatever words they want, wherever they want. Sometimes, after everyone cools down, maybe even days later, they will think about things, and finally understand what the other person said, and come closer as a result. As for Jay, I can understand what you mean to some extent...clearly you are a very courteous and proper person, but maybe you could stand to lighten up a little. If you and your wife want to argue in a nice restaurant, I will not think you guys are bad people...and if your argument is ruining somebody else's tiramisu enjoyment, then those people should lighten up as well. A little flexibility and tolerance can go a long way.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bird watcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 3:47 pm

All this talk about being "judgmental" surprises me. The way I read the original post, if Chandrama was being judgmental it was toward a behavior. She wasn't condemning the couple.

And I'm sympathetic to Jay's position as well, which I'm sure is reflective of my own irritation over public behavior that can be likened to a thumbing of one's nose at nearby people who are forced to witness/hear other people's ugly personal dramas -- even in a setting where people seek tranquility, like a seaside pathway. Jay likened it to people dumping their garbage in public space, which I think is an apt parallel. I've always thought of it as some people's inability to figure out that the world is not their personal livingroom.

Everyone has "bad days," and disagreements that need to be hashed out. But why inflict your personal, sometimes vicious disputes on the rest of the world?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Maggie, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I generally think it's rude to argue in public. I also think there are times when the only way to describe a situation honestly & accurately is to directly state, "you did thus & such, and I'm really unhappy about it". Manners are really important in couples & relationships but if we have to carefully couch every observation and annoyance with "When you do that I feel thus & such" language it gets pretty tedious pretty quickly. Also, I'm not convinced they didn't go home and have sex, with or without wine (without is better, but that's another topic). They weren't killing each other, they were arguing. And from the description, passionately.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Yikes, a resident of another community,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Judgmental. That is the one word I would use to describe the oppressive feeling that Palo Alto imposes. Judgmental neighbors, judgmental room moms, judgmental restaurant patrons... So sorry that our day-to-day lives, our arguments, our babies crying, etc. are interfering with your enjoyment of the symphony, or Chardonnay tastings, or walks through your well-manicured parks.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
>> But I've got to say that I find Agenda's and Yuk's statements insensitive in the extreme.

I agree. I don't like the article, but the author is trying to get at something positive.

If she failed for someone, it is not cause for insulting judgements, nasty comments, nor an attack on her livelihood. Who really cares about the unqualified judgements of these two anyway, and that fact that they posted them so blatantly only make their own thought processes questionable.

If there is nothing these two can think of to say to contribute to the discussion, maybe sit it out.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Yikes, a resident of another community,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I guess there are some strong polarized views on this subject. At the heart of the issue is this: half of the people who read this identify with the arguing couple, and the other half identify with the bystander who is subjected to the argument. I suppose I relate to the arguing couple more, because that could have been me. Of course, no one wants to have an argument in public, but most people in serious relationships should know that you can't always control where an argument happens. When the rare argument does happen in public, I feel embarrassed, and hope that the strangers around me are forgiving. I would certainly be forgiving of others, having been a sinner myself.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Yuk, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 5:15 pm

CrescentParkAnon wrote: "But I've got to say that I find Agenda's and Yuk's statements insensitive in the extreme."

Really? You found my comments "insensitive"? In what way?

"Who really cares about the unqualified judgements of these two anyway, and that fact that they posted them so blatantly only make their own thought processes questionable."

Well, obviously YOU care, as you took the time to write. How do you post something "blatantly?" And how would that make a thought process "questionable?"

This article seems to resonate positively with people that are bothered by couples who argue in public. On the other side, there are those of us that feel this article is mostly negative and critical. We would prefer a more compassionate response to the community.

Blogs are opinion pieces and the comments are usually more so! That's a good thing--the exchange of ideas and feelings. Trying to suppress others' communications usually backfires.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Agenda, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm

"If there is nothing these two can think of to say to contribute to the discussion, maybe sit it out."

In other words CPA, a contribution to this discussion would be something you agree with. And if the person is expressing an opinion that is not in line with your take in the matter, they should sit it out.
Yikes and yuk sum it up quite well.
I will give this to chandrama, she has not edited this forum to remove the criticisms aimed at her.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Agenda --> In other words CPA, a contribution to this discussion would be something you agree with.

Not at all, not in those words or other words, and nothing I said implied that either. Maybe stretch your reading comprehension a bit and quit making conclusions that suit you based on nothing. And no, if I have a choice I don't care to argue back and forth.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Terrence, a resident of another community,
on Dec 29, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Ms. Anderson, if you are wondering why that couple was so ill mannered in public and mean to one another, take a look at the comments here. People nowadays are often ill-mannered, snarky, bellicose and confrontational online. They are increasingly bringing their online behavior to their offline world. People generally won't tolerate such nonsense in real life, so the results can be by turns amusing, annoying or even tragic.

Oh well, at least their real-world blowups occasionally make for some entertaining YouTube videos. ;)

CNN turned off comments on most of their news articles, as the focus started to shift towards the comments fight rather than the news articles. I find it amazing that the Almanac has not followed suit.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

I welcome feedback from my clients about what is and is not working for them in couple's counseling. I ask that they be kind to one another. I ask that you, too, are kind to one another, even when you don't agree.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Dec 31, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Alan is a registered user.

We have no idea who this couple is; Chandrama was talking about behavior, not about shaming a couple. So I don't think it was patronizing.

People should be allowed to be authentic in their conflicts, and it isn't always going to be pleasant. Sometimes, you just need to rant a little; there isn't much catharsis in being meticulously polite. But making some effort to be civil in their conversation should help them be more authentic, not less, as it would let them get to the root cause of the conflict, rather than degenerating into a battle of accusations. I think that's the point.


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What Are Your Gifts that Must Be Shared?
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,335 views

 

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