We have friends, a married couple named Don and Lee Ann, who are notorious for ruining most any event to which they're invited—and even the ones they host. In fact, my husband, Rich, and I refer to them privately as "The Needlers" because their behavior is so much like the characters in that recurring Saturday Night Live sketch.
If you haven't seen it, SNL's Needlers are a couple who constantly badger—or "needle"—each other with put-downs, causing everyone around them to grow increasingly uncomfortable. But while an SNL portrayal is funny in its over-the-top way, our Needler friends aren't such a joy to be around when they launch their poison arrows at each other.
Usually, the exchange starts with something harmless, such as Don mentioning that he washed their cars that day. As I'm busy shooting Rich a friendly "wow, you could do that, too" look, Lee Ann quietly launches her first arrow.
"Yeah, you got busy with that because you knew my sister was coming over," she says with an agitated tone.
As a race announcer would say, "They're in the gate, and … they're off!"
Don: "Like I'd want to spend any more time than necessary with her."
Lee Ann: "Oh, that's right, you don't have to be around when my family visits but I have to wait on yours hand and foot."
Don: "You wouldn't know what waiting on someone 'hand and foot' even means, Miss Pampered."
Lee Ann: "Huh, like Mr. White Bread over there has a clue. I'll bet when you were little your mom never got so drugged out that she couldn't make dinner."
Don: "Are you 9 or 39? Get over your childhood finally!"
At this point, Lee Ann darts from the room to cry. Meanwhile, I have a big decision. Do I:
1. Follow her for the millionth time to listen to her sob over her bad marriage;
2. Stay with the rest of the group but risk Lee Ann accusing me of taking Don's side rather than hers;
3. Go home (if this is, hopefully, happening anywhere but our house).
Fortunately these meltdowns tend to occur at the end of our evenings together, so Rich and I usually can excuse ourselves and make the great escape. A while back, out of desperation we even developed a secret sign—one of us removes his or her watch and rebuckles it—so we know when it's time to go.
After enduring an episode with Don and Lee Ann, I'm always struck by the responsibility we have as Christians to help people understand that marriage is a model for the God relationship. Don and Lee Ann were raised in church but long ago gave up on religion and call themselves agnostics now. The result of this abandonment of God is reflected in their marriage. But it's not much better for the increasing number of active Christians I encounter who only have bitter, ugly words for their spouses.
When Rich and I were engaged, we agreed that one goal for our marriage would be to set a good example for others. So after we were married and Rich's guy friends teased him about the "ball and chain," he surprised them—and shut them up—by saying, "Marriage is great. I love my wife!" Similarly, when I'm with girlfriends who insist on husband bashing, I interject with something like, "Rich has his faults but he's such a great husband that I accept them."
That's not to say we have the perfect marriage. Rich and I have our share of shouting matches and silent treatments. But they're always in private and we don't drag our friends along for the ride.
Meanwhile, we keep praying for Don and Lee Ann. I have faith that the Lord will work in their hearts and show them his way. Their kids are asking Don and Lee Ann to take them to church, so I hope some day to see the whole family walking up the church's steps alongside us.
Until then, when we're with the Needlers, I'll never have to ask anyone else what time it is—I'll be wearing my watch.
Christy Scannel, freelance editor and writer, is co-author of Katt's in the Cradle (Howard Books/Simon & Schuster). She and her husband, Rich, live in Southern California. www.ChristyScannell.com
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