It’s a moody winter day, but when the alarm goes off my husband bounds out of bed. He’s excited because we are going on vacation. It’s going to be a nice weekend with friends in the country. I wake up groggy and upset that there is still so much packing to do in a short amount of time. I’m angry that I always have to do everything, and my husband doesn’t feel the same pressing responsibility to get the house in order before we leave. I bark at him to put his breakfast dishes in the sink, and slink off to take a shower.
I’m so furious when I see that he hasn’t packed his cell phone charger, that I almost leave it home on purpose, but like a good wife, I pack it along with his toothbrush, shaking my head at his irresponsibility.
By the time we are ready to leave, I need an extra large coffee or an hour meditation class. Instead, I am racing around the house making sure all the lights are off and the windows are closed.
As I pass by the kitchen, I see the breakfast dishes are still in the sink. My brain explodes in my head and I stomp down the hallway where my happy-go-lucky husband is waiting by the door.
“WE ARE GOING TO GET BUGS IN THIS HOUSE! YOU’RE BEING SELFISH AND ALWAYS EXPECT ME TO DO EVERYTHING. YOU’RE BEING A JERK. I’M NOT DOING THE DISHES THIS TIME, AND YOU’LL BE THE ONE CALLING THE EXTERMINATOR.”
With this, I clomp out to the car and take a seat in a huff, seething. Marriage!
I always expected wedded bliss to be endless weeks of romance and private jokes, where we’d sit on decks drinking coffee and fall down laughing for no reason. (I guess I’ve seen too many rom-coms.) Sure, those fairytale days are in there, but they are also peppered with hours of conflict and temper tantrums.
Getting married means embracing conflict, along with all the good stuff. Fighting is a normal and a healthy part of any relationship. Fortunately, my husband and I are two different people, and are bound to have different opinions at least some of the time. Conflict helps us grow together and as individuals. But fighting fair is not as easy as you would think.
The point of a fight is not to win anything, not to be vindicated, or to take out your crankiness on another person. The point of a fight is to come to a mutually satisfying solution to a problem.
Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, you both are on the same team and it’s in your best interest to work it out. At the end of a good fight, you will have both won.
As I sat fuming in the cold car, I recognized that I didn’t follow any of the therapist-approved tips for arguing: I blamed, generalized, name called, yelled, threatened and did not listen. Plus, I walked away without letting my husband know that I was taking time to cool off. These are all valid rules that every expert on the Internet wants you to hang up on your fridge and refer to in the heat of the moment. I quickly saw that I needed to apologize to my husband for my crazy behavior.
BUT before I apologize, let’s look at what I did right in the fight. Here are five solemn commandments that should never, ever be broken when you are in a fight with a loved one. Even when you are too emotional to refer to a “fighting fair chart," these rules should be internalized.
- KEEP IT CLASSY.
That means no swearing, biting, kicking a wall, throwing a lamp, or (obviously) no domestic violence of any sort.
When you don’t have the words for the amount of passion you are feeling, it’s easy to blurt out “bitch” or “asshole," but this kind of language won’t help result in a resolution.
On this same note, never try to resolve a conflict when you are drinking heavily. Take it from me, even when you are weeping and emotional, take a nap and pick up on the fight when you are both sober.
Additionally, keep it off the front porch (or the street, in front of dinner guests, at your kids’ parent/teacher conference.) Fighting should be done in private, and involve only you and your spouse...not a bevy of rubberneckers or your whole family.
2. LEAVE YOUR PARENTS OUT OF THE RELATIONSHIP.
It’s just too easy to say something along the lines of, “You’re just like your father who always did blah blah blah.” You’re deliberately hitting below the belt, and when you put your partner on the defensive, they aren’t going to easily be able to listen to your point of view.
Also, don’t bring your friends into the conversation. “My friend Lucy always said that I never should have married you…” If Lucy isn’t part of your relationship, then she shouldn’t have a say in your conflict resolutions.
3. SARCASM SUCKS.
“Oh yeah, you really know how to be somewhere on time. They should call you Flava Flav with that built-in clock you have.”
Sarcasm is a method of belittling someone. There’s no way for your partner to continue to talk about the problem at hand if your replies include snide asides, or comments like “Whatever.”
Also, don’t start arguing about the details. Like if your partner says “You were 20 minutes late to pick me up!” it’s ridiculous to come back with “Actually I was only 17 minutes late, thank you very much!”
Think of everything in the conversation as a way to get to a conclusion. Sarcastic replies and being overly specific about the details is just a way to avoid moving the conversation further along.
4. DON’T LABEL.
Avoid telling your spouse that they are neurotic, depressed, boring, stupid, or a loser. Notice that I told my husband this morning that he was “being” a jerk. That’s different than saying that someone “is” a jerk. “Being” a jerk is something that is not their constant state; it’s just an unusual circumstance.
My husband could have easily told me, “You seem cranky today, and you are acting like a psycho,” and he would have been right. But if he had told me I was a nutjob, that would have been just rude.
5. NEVER BRING UP THE “D” WORD.
If nothing else, remember this rule. When anger levels escalate and emotions come to a boiling point, it is really easy to think in your head, “Why in the world did I ever marry this person?”
But never, under any circumstances, ever, are you to utter the word “divorce” in front of your husband or wife. Threatening to walk out of your marriage is seriously manipulative, and also quickly escalates the argument into a situation that needs a good couple’s counselor.
Bringing up divorce also creates an atmosphere of distrust and can cause abandonment anxiety. It’s not easy to restore the trust afterward, and most importantly, it certainly won’t resolve the issue at hand.
You might feel like you won when you get your partner to cave in to your demands, but you’ll be losing at the marriage.