Thursday, February 12, 2009

An invalid opinion

A few weeks ago I was out to lunch at a local restaurant. I was seated near a couple who appeared to be in their 50s and happily married. Throughout the course of my meal I overheard a lot of the conversation they were having, and one part in particular has been bouncing around in my head.

They were discussing the nature of child support laws in our state and the husband's opinion was that child support was supposed to be used to care for a child and not maintain either the mother or the child in unreasonable luxury. His wife grew irritated with his point of view and interrupted him several times to counter with her own opinions in a raised voice. They went back and forth, expressing their opinions and stating why they had them. The husband didn't seem to be arguing with his wife or even expressing an opposing viewpoint, but she kept countering with her own opinion as though she was offended by his; the more they talked, the more annoyed and insistent she became.

The more agitated and annoyed she became, the quieter her husband got and he finally said, "I'm just stating my opinion" in what sounded like an attempt to end the conversation. His wife replied that his opinion was not valid since he had never paid child support when their child was young.

At the time, I was a little shocked to hear such a blatant de-validation of a spouses' opinion; and now that I'm reading Blink that wife's sentence keeps replaying itself in my head. It's not a valid opinion. I think if the psychologist referenced in Blink could hear that couple, he would say that the wife had no respect for her husband, and that she held his past mistakes against him and threw them in his face at inappropriate times. She was treating him with contempt, as though he were lesser than she was, not allowed his own opinion, especially not in matters that triggered her struggles.

As I looked at the couple, I noticed that everything about them seemed to be in conflict. They appeared to be happily married, comfortable with each other and physically affectionate; they were smiling and relaxed, and she frequently rubbed her hand across his back in a gesture that seemed to be soothing, or brushed his hair away from his ears.

But when they spoke, she talked down to him, raised her voice at him and interrupted him when he was speaking. He was rudely berated for his viewpoints and summarily invalidated when stating his opinion.

I try really, really hard not to judge other people but as I watched them finish their meal I wondered, as I imagine anyone else within earshot also wondered, why they were married. Or at the very least, why they couldn't deal with their differences of opinion in a more constructive, respectful manner.

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