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Laurie Israel Headshot

Driving Your Spouse Crazy... Literally!

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Almost every married couple I know experiences conflict when driving in the car. One of them is a backseat driver. One of them drives too fast, or too slow, or too dangerously, or just plain badly. Nerves get frayed. Tension rises. The relationship in the car may reflect the darkest side of the marriage.

Driving raises basic issues about control, acknowledgment, values and capabilities that play out in marriages. Here are some of the common issues that arise on the road, how they relate to marriage, and some thoughts about how to cope.

What's the best route to take. She tells him to go on the highway and across town. He takes a supposed shortcut that takes them straight into a traffic jam. She says, "I told you so."

  • Analysis: In a marriage, spouses often have different ways of doing things. Usually, it's not that important because both choices will lead to an acceptable result. In the car, there is less patience for sub-optimal decisions because there isn't time to discuss and both partners are trapped in an enclosed space.
  • Advice: It's almost never important if you take the longer route, and you may see something unexpected.

Changing lanes. Your spouse is about to change lanes to exit but doesn't look through the side window. You see the car next to you speeding up. You shout, "Watch out!" Your spouse pulls back but misses the turn and you're stuck until the next exit.

  • Analysis: Most spouses resent being put in danger by the other spouse. But when driving in a car going 65 mph, the reality is that you're both in danger all the time.
  • Advice: There is a 99% chance your spouse would have seen the car in time even if you hadn't shouted. And if you do crash, you get to bring it up for the next 10 years.

Tailgating. You are driving in slow traffic. Your spouse doesn't like the speed at which the car in front of you is driving and tries to speed them up. Your front bumper looks like it's attached to the car in front.

  • Analysis: Anger and frustration are part of being human. We need to understand that our spouse may have different anger points than we do. As married people, we need to respect and tolerate our differences, and even appreciate them.
  • Advice: If the tailgating is genuinely dangerous, you should bring it up calmly. If your spouse doesn't change their behavior, continue to bring it up again, but stay calm.

Driving Aggressively. Your spouse is changing lanes, passing cars, and seems very frustrated to be contained by traffic. This is unusual driving behavior for your spouse. You are getting increasingly uncomfortable and fearful.

  • Analysis: Most married couples have a sense when their significant other is troubled by something. Usually your instincts will be right about this.
  • Advice: Ask your spouse openly if something is bothering them. Don't give them a hard time about the aggressive driving. If your spouse can talk about it, their aggressive driving will probably stop.

Signaling Every Turn. You are driving on a deserted side street; there is no one behind you. You don't bother to signal, but your spouse says, "Put the left signal on!" You get angry because it seems silly to signal when no one can see it.

  • Analysis: People in relationships have some different values. For one spouse, following the rules may be very important. You should appreciate your spouse's stricter standards of behavior because this may be a good quality overall.
  • Advice: If it does you no harm, and makes your spouse happy, why not use the signal?

Parallel Parking. You learned to drive in a big city. Parallel parking was part of your life. However, your spouse came from farm country and needs 50 open yards to successfully parallel park a car.

  • Analysis: Marriage is affected by each person's different cultural, religious, geographic, and economic background. By appreciating and absorbing elements of their different background, you can become a better person.
  • Advice: Appreciate the unique qualities of your spouse on each of their 10 attempts to parallel park. Don't tell them you can do it better. Remember, your spouse is better at plenty of other things.

Backing Up the Car. Your spouse zooms backward out of the driveway with great energy. You are petrified. Luckily no cars are coming.

  • Analysis: Sometimes you just have to trust your spouse to do the right thing. While your spouse may sometimes make incorrect decisions, overall your spouse has good judgment.
  • Advice: Be rational. When was the last time your spouse had an accident? Was it a major accident? Assume that your spouse is just as interested in protecting your lives, and your car, as you are.

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