Little Jimmy: “Fighting? How can fighting be a key to a successful relationship Mrs. Martin? If couples are truly in love they will never fight!”
Me: “Ohh… little Jimmy. You have much to learn. Couples who never fight are not only annoying, but they can’t truly know or love each other. Because when you truly know someone, you will always find at least one thing that makes you want to poke your own eyes out.”
Now before you get the wrong idea, let me clarify that so far Howie and I are quite happy and have just fleeting instances of the eye-poking urge. At this point I think it’s prudent to share that even though we’ve been married for just four months, we’ve been in a relationship with each other for over nine years. NINE YEARS. So my advice comes not as a young, ignorant newlywed, but as a person who has loved a person for nine years. And in nine years, you learn a lot about fighting fair. (Because at first, you do the opposite)
And so, for your romantic-relational education, here is the:
Modern Wife Guide to the Worst Fighting Strategies and How to Avoid Them
1) “Well at least I’m not a drug-addict who runs a brothel!” Don’t be irrelevant. Sometimes when you feel your parter is being particularly rough or critical with you it’s really easy to just throw out these irrelevant one-liners. “At least I don’t watch football all day.” “At least I’m not as bad as Mary’s husband.” “At least I don’t toot when other people are around.” The problem with these phrases is that it completely ignores the issue between you and your mate and adds a whole new level of adolescence into the conversation. Your partner should not necessarily have to put up with some poor behaviour because there are worse things he or she could do. I find that the best way to avoid these kinds of fights is to talk about what the real issue is, in a non-nagging way. Pick the right time to bring up issues with your partner so that they are in a mood to conquer an issue, not put up defences.
2) “You are just like your father!” Never compare to family in a fight. This is one of the worst things you could ever say to your partner in a fight. “You’re just like your mother!” “You’re just like your sister!” “You’re just like your incarcerated uncle!” It’s a low blow, and the sting of that kind of insult remains even after the fight may be over. Not only are you insulting your partner, but you’re insulting their family. And 9 times out of 10, people are way less forgiving when it comes to family. My piece of advice is simple, just don’t do this. Ever. The teensy amount of satisfaction it will bring in the heat of the moment is not worth the damage it causes to your partner.
3) “My day sucks. Why can’t you load the dishwasher right?” Don’t take life out on each other. It is way too easy to take out bad days on the people you are supposed to love most. Ideally, we should be coming to our partners for love, comfort, and reassurance, but it’s incredibly hard for our partners to give us these things when we are acting like angry, nit-picking gremlins. When work is draining, when friends aren’t treating you right, when your pants seem to be getting smaller and smaller, it can be easier to blow of your steam on your spouse than to talk about what’s really bothering you. Sometimes you need space, and if you know you’re going to act like brat just ask for some space (nicely) instead of taking it out on them. Then, make the effort to talk about how you feel when you’re calm, the love and comfort you receive from that is worth the effort.
4) “I wrapped all the presents so you should take out the dog.” Don’t score-keep. One of the biggest killers of romance has got to be routine. The daily responsibility of jointly running a home and managing life can be stressful on a couple and it’s tempting to keep track of who does what and then using it as ammo you’re feeling less inclined to do something. Score-keeping is a nasty, nasty little game that ultimately no one ends up winning. It creates a sense of angst where two people in love start doing things to build up credit against each other instead of doing things out of love and support. Echoing the advice of Uncle Sam, I find that when you ask yourself what you can do for your partner, instead of what your partner can do for you, both people end up doing a lot more for each other.
5) “You never listen and you always think you’re right.” Avoid absolutes. This is a very little thing, but avoiding absolutes can diffuse a fight in ways you can’t even imagine. As soon as someone hears you saying that they always or never do something, it’s easy to tune you out because they are immediately turned off by that exaggeration. Consider the following two ways I could tell you it’s irritating when you leave wet towels in the hamper: A) “You ALWAYS leave your wet towels in the hamper! How come you NEVER listen when I ask you to hang them up?!” or B) “Babe, it’s frustrating when you leave your wet towels in the hamper. Can you hang them up so our clothes don’t get soggy?” Of the two options, I think B) would be a lot more effective at resolving the wet towel issue without making your partner feel like a doofus.
Finally, I want to leave you with this mental picture of resolving issues that our pastor shared with us in pre-marital counselling. Instead of allowing the Problem to wedge itself between you two and create two opposing sides, imagine yourselves on the same team, Problem on the other side, and the two of you working together to conquer the Problem.
Which fighting pitfalls do you find most difficult to avoid?