USK Course of Action Scenario Response(s)
June 2006
"Bickering Couple"

There is a husband and wife team that is constantly bickering during your one week long trip. It is day three and you and the rest of the group are getting tired of the couple fighting. What is your course of action?

Considerations & actions from Wayne Horodowich:

Givens from the scenario being presented:

Husband and wife team constantly bickering
Week long trip
Group of paddlers
The group is tired of the fighting couple

Considerations for each given:

Husband and wife team constantly bickering
Fighting of any kind is uncomfortable to others
Trips are supposed to be enjoyable
Friction can become a safety issue due to change of focus

Week long trip
Too many days to avoid dealing with the issue

Group of paddlers

Group’s right to have an enjoyable environment
Group norms (rules)
Danger of others getting involved and taking sides
Sometimes bickering breeds bickering
It is a group of paddlers not a group of therapists

The group is tired of the fighting couple
Dissatisfaction is in the open
Group members have some decisions to make

My general principles when taking actions involving others in disagreement:

Don’t take sides
Try not to solve their problems
Diplomatically inform them their behavior is affecting the trip
Deal with the issue sooner than later (the faster the better)

Course(s) of Action for the bickering couple scenario:

After leading hundreds of groups I have had to deal with bickering couples. It is something that cannot be ignored. It affects the rest of the group. It can act like a poison.

When people come into the outdoors they are looking for many things but I can assure you it isn’t the desire to hear a couple fighting.
If it is a trip with an official leader it saves the rest of the group from having to deal with confronting the couple. If it is a group of friends then a few things must occur to deal with the problem. Someone in the group will have to open the discussion about the couple to get the rest of the group’s feelings about the issue. If the group decides to take action they need to decide the action and who will take the action (one, two, three, the group…).

As a group leader I have taken two approaches. As soon as the bickering begins I use humor to deal with it. I do it in a group setting so everyone can hear and everyone will get the hint that this is unacceptable behavior. Here are a few different quotes. "King Neptune forbids any bickering on kayak tips. Punishment is automatic capsizing." If I wanted to hear fighting I can watch Jerry Springer." Hey, you are ruining my wilderness experience."

If the humor doesn’t work, then I would get the couple alone and express my concern. I will NOT ask what the bickering is about, but I will let them know that it is unacceptable. I will ask them if they will be able to put the issue aside for the rest of the trip? If they cannot remain civil I inform them we will have to find a place for them to leave the trip.

I am not there to be a couple’s counselor. I do not want to hear what the issues are because that gets you sucked into the fight. That is a problem on group trips with couples that are friends. It is easy to try to be supportive of your friend but you can end up taking sides. Then there are more than two in the fight.

I did see one leader split a couple up in a diplomatic way but it never dealt with the issue because the fighting erupted in camp. The idea was a quick fix while on the water. They had the fighting couple paddle in different kayaks. The trip was made up of all double kayaks.

If the group does not like confrontation, then they can just suck it up and suffer for the week. However, with time off being so precious I would hope the group members would value their own time and their right to an enjoyable outing by addressing the issue. In addition, if the issue is not dealt with, the growing animosity of the group can become explosive. My greatest concern is the tension in the group can detract from the safety focus of the group. When people are distracted they may not be aware of a risky situations.

Suggested response to avoid the situation:

If a group of friends plan to do a trip it could be a good idea to make a set of rules for the trip. One of those rules is no fighting. Then if a fight occurs anyone can yell out you are breaking rule #1. It is also a good idea to be selective when you go on a week-long trip.

Lessons learned:

Don’t take sides in the fight
Deal with the issue quickly
Set rules in advance for group trips with friends
Choose your group wisely

Response(s) from our readers:

Mike writes:

I recommend a three stage approach. 

1. The person who is closest to the couple, maybe the fool who invited them, should take both for a walk and level with them. Ask them if they can put their difficulties on hold for the remainder of the trip. This approach is the least embarrassing for everyone.

2. If that doesn't work, enlist the entire group, including the couple to assist in embarrassing them out of the behavior. Every time someone in the group hears a comment from anyone else in the group that could begin a bickering session, the person or persons hearing the comment yells: "Bickering Alert!" Everyone in the group who heard the comment and agrees, repeats the "Bickering alert!" call. Do it for anyone, not just the offending couple. Make it a game, but if the offending couple gets going back and forth, the "Bickering alert" calls will get everyone laughing and make successful bickering impossible. The offending couple will realize that they need to keep their bickering private, or wait until the trip concludes.

3.  Vote them off the island.  


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