Dave Barry

Honk if you're married and can't cope with anger

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published July 31, 1994.)

Today's topic for married people is: coping with anger.

Even so-called ''perfect couples'' experience conflict. Take Canada geese.

They mate for life, so people just assume they get along well; when people see a goose couple flying overhead, honking, they say, ''Oh, that's SO romantic.'' What these people don't realize is that honking is how geese argue. (''Are you SURE we're heading north?'' ''YES, dammit.'' ''Well, I think we should ask somebody.'' ) The only reason they mate for life is that they can't afford lawyers.

It's the same with humans. Even if you love somebody very much, you eventually discover that this person has irritating habits, such as leaving toenail clippings around the house as though they were little art displays; or not disposing of the potato-chip bag after eating everything in it except three salt molecules at the bottom; or secretly being also married to somebody else; or humming the song ''Horse With No Name''; or responding to every single statement you make -- including obviously factual ones, such as that Montpelier is the capital of Vermont -- by saying, ``Well, that's YOUR opinion.''

No matter how much you love your spouse, eventually the smooth, unblemished surface of your relationship will be marred by a small pimple of anger, which, if ignored, can grow into a major festering zit of rage that will explode and spew forth a really disgusting metaphor that I do not wish to pursue any further here. This is why you married couples need to learn to cope with your anger.

For an excellent example of a married couple coping with anger, we turn now to an incident that occurred several years ago involving my brother, Sam, and his wife, Pat, when they were on a long car trip. After many hours on the road, they reached Charleston, S.C., where they were going to visit an old family friend. Pat was driving, and Sam was giving directions, and they got into an argument about the way he was giving them. (If you don't understand how such a petty issue could cause an argument, then you have never had a spouse.)

So Pat decided, OK, if Sam was so good at directions, then HE could drive the stupid car. She got out, slammed the front door, and opened the back door to get in the back with their 2-year-old son, Daniel. And then she decided, hey, why should she ride in the back, like a child? So she slammed the back door. But before she could open the front door, Sam, assuming she was in the car, drove off. Pat was left standing, all alone, at night, with no money, wearing a T-shirt and a miniskirt, in what turned out to be a very bad neighborhood.

''Hey, pretty lady!'' called a male voice.

Meanwhile, in the car, Sam was driving with great intensity and focus, reading street signs, making left turns and right turns, showing Pat (he thought) just how excellent his directions were. It was not until he had gone a considerable distance that he realized Pat was being very quiet.

''Pat?'' he said.


''Daniel,'' said Sam, trying to sound as calm as possible, ``is Mommy back there?''

''No,'' said Daniel.

''OK, Daniel,'' said Sam, performing a high-speed turn. ''Just be calm.'' He immediately became lost.

Meanwhile, back in the bad neighborhood, Pat, walking briskly away from various admiring males, found a bus station with a pay phone, called 911, and explained where she was.

''Do NOT go outside,'' said the 911 person.

Meanwhile, Sam, driving frantically while reminding Daniel to stay calm, had located the general area where he'd left Pat. He saw a police officer, rushed up and quickly told him what had happened.

The officer said: ''You left your wife HERE?'' Without another word, the officer leaped into his patrol car and, tires squealing, roared off. Sam never saw him again.

Meanwhile, at the bus station, another officer, sent by the 911 person, had found Pat, who was explaining the situation.

''My husband and I were having a disagreement,'' she said, ``and ...''

''Oh,'' said the officer. ``A domestic.''

''No,'' said Pat. ``It's NOT a domestic. My husband just ...''

Another officer arrived.

''Hey,'' said the first officer. ``I got a domestic here.''

''It's NOT a domestic,'' said Pat.

Pat was taken to the police station, where the officer called the old family friend -- this being the only person Pat knew in Charleston -- and explained the situation.

''I got a Pat Barry here on a domestic,'' he said.

''IT'S NOT A DOMESTIC,'' said Pat, in the background.

Fortunately, Sam also called the old family friend, and he and Pat were reunited at the police station, where Pat graciously elected not to seek the death penalty. So everything worked out fine except that to this day Daniel becomes mildly concerned when Mommy gets out of the car.

Anyway, I hope Pat's and Sam's experience serves as a lesson to you spouses about the importance of not letting your anger fester and of using proven psychological techniques for dealing with conflict in your marriage. For example, on long car trips, one of you should ride in the trunk.