Mary-Joan Gerson PhD

Mary-Joan Gerson Ph.D.

The Cyberspace Connection

FIGHTING ONLINE AND LOVING IT

Can fighting online, in public view, be beneficial to couples?

Posted Mar 26, 2010

Young couples today take their fights to the mat and to the screen. An article in the New York Times described an engaged couple who fight on Facebook. The fight between the featured couple began with the male fiancé complaining about his partner's entitlement about her birthday, which resulted in her writing "GET OVER IT!!!UGH!!!!!" He replied with an expletive which couldn't be published. 

I think we find this kind of public display of animosity uncomfortable. For many people it's a disturbing flashback to childhood and the sudden eruption of parental anger--the scariness of finding the two people the child is dependent upon seemingly at war with each other. The reactions of the couple's friends was negative: "I'm spending over $200 on apparel to be in this wedding," one said, ..."meanwhile, their whole relationship is falling apart on Facebook."

But I think here is something very psychologically smart about Ashley and James going public online. Marriage used to be an institutional arrangement, a joining of households for production and survival. It was ordered, organized and supported by the larger culture. And of course it still is in much of the world today, often arranged rather than freely chosen.

In the Western world, since industrialization, marriage became a haven, a private sanctuary for soul-mates. For the last century and a half marital conflict and problems were shared very discreetly and most often between women. Men have complained about certain irritating "generic" female qualities, but have typically resisted getting specific about their own wives.

So what are Ashely and James doing? They are bringing their marriage to their friendship community and asking for some collective wisdom and "holding" of their conflicts. I went to a wedding a few years ago, which concluded with a request from the Judge officiating (it was a secular wedding) to have a testimony of support from all the guests present. "Will you support this couple if they need you in the future?" he asked. Raise your hands if you will! " I felt the power of this community to possible sustain this pair through some difficult times, and who knew what that would be?

Ashley and James are not yet married, but they are asking for this support for their pledge to each other. Maybe they're frightened by how angry they make each other. Perhaps it would be more helpful if their friends reflected back to them how indeed everyone struggles, or some recognition of the special attraction and vitality of this couple. Maybe some of their friends even admire their gutsiness in not having to present the Hallmark romantic portrait. A more positive, reinforcing response from their Facebook friends might encourage them to feel stronger in their commitment, and perhaps even begin a long, honest, private conversation about their relationship!

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