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“In every disagreement in marriage, remember this one important truth: My spouse is my partner, NOT my enemy.
We will either win together or we will lose together.”
Fighting is part of any relationship. There will be disagreements, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and mistakes made. It’s not that you can escape fighting but it’s how you put the relationship back together that matters.
ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
—George Bernard Shaw
When my husband Vincent and I were dating, he had a pet parrot named Sampson. Sampson would screech and holler loudly at us. Vincent would discipline him in an “I mean business!” voice. I told him you know you can’t yell at me like that, right? I was pretty clear I didn’t want screaming at each other as part of our relationship. Heck, I didn’t even want the dirty parrot squawking at me!
So my husband doesn’t yell, but when Vincent is really mad, he blinks rapidly at me. Now you can think the flutter of an eyelash isn’t intimidating, but you are wrong. I can know in an instance that his buttons have been pushed and the blinking is on! He also licks the side of his lip and touches his eyebrow. These are his tells that he is upset.
In college, I was the silent brooder when I was mad. Clamped down and shut up. Vincent knew something was up but did not know what or why. He said, “I can’t help if I don’t know what I’m doing to make you mad.” And he taught me to voice my concerns when I was angry or hurt. He probably rues the day he opened that door. But it’s a much more effective approach to conflict resolution.
So, you have to spell it out for your partner. Maybe you don’t have a problem voicing your anger. But just make sure what is upsetting you is clear and explain how he can fix it.
LEARNING FROM OUR WORST FIGHT EVER
My husband is one of the gentlest, kindest and most loving people I know. The only place I see him abandon these traits is behind the wheel of his car. Alas, Vincent is an aggressive driver. He likes to honk at other cars on the road that are doing wrong… even when I’m the one driving. One time, we were headed to Houston and stopped at Taco Bell. I was driving and eating my bean burrito when a car swerved in front of me. He reached over from the passenger seat to honk the horn and toppled the bean burrito into my lap. I had to wear my dinner because he wanted to blare the horn. I don’t think I have ever been as angry as I was then. I made it extremely clear that the driver is in charge of the car horn and it’s the driver’s choice when he or SHE chooses to honk it. Anyone in the car that day still shudders at the story. But it solved our horn dilemma for me to be crystal clear about what was upsetting me and what he should do about it.
Ok, Time for a Joy Break: This one is called...So Hangry!
We were on a road trip and had just gone to Whataburger for hamburgers. Before getting back on the freeway, some dude swerved too close in front of us. At the next light, Vincent pulled up beside the guy and then threw his burger at the guy’s car. The hamburger slid down his windshield smearing mustard as it went. It was classic. I just looked at Vincent all riled up and said, “Are you happy now? You have no dinner.”
After 25 years of marriage, Vincent and I know each other so well. I can read him like a book. I know when Vincent is being critical of me by his facial expressions. He won’t say anything but I will retort like he did because I know he is thinking it. He actually gets in trouble for his thoughts. Admittedly, it isn’t fair to be held accountable not just for your actions but also for your every thought.
He always says he didn’t actually do anything. I’ve agreed to at least wait for his mouth to condemn him before I get mad.
Ok, Time for a Joy Break: This one is called...Checking in
I told Vincent that I would like him to text me where he is after work when we have plans so I know he hasn’t forgotten. That night he texted me from the bathroom saying where he was.
Another thing that helps a marriage last is handling conflict with respect. When tackling a concern, it’s good to put the KISS, KICK, KISS method to work.
First, you praise them for something, then you tell them what isn’t working, and then you praise them again.
KISS: I love that you took initiative to clean the gutters. Thank you for doing that.
KICK: But I want to ask if you can put your tools and ladder away after you are through with a project.
KISS: I’m so grateful that you help out around here. This house would fall apart without you here.
And as hard as it is, keep arguments issues related. No name-calling. Don’t use eternity phrases like “you never…” or “you always...” These show you don’t think there is hope for change.
Kiss-Kick-Kiss works in all areas of your life: business, marriage, and parenting. Doubling up on praise allows them to hear the negative. It softens the blow. You are addressing the issue, but loving the person.
The end result from a marital argument should be reconciliation. Resolution is what you are wanting in the long run. Don’t be shortsighted and dig your heels in to the detriment of the relationship. Is your need to be right more important than solving the problem? It shouldn’t be. The issue itself is one thing. Finding a way back to solid ground in your relationship is the goal. If you want to have a happy life with your significant other, make sure all you do meets this goal.
Ok, Time for a Joy Break: This one is called...For Whom the Bell Tolls
Since humor is so central in our relationship, we often use wit to get ourselves back on track. I ask Vincent after he has said something patronizing to me whether he heard a warning bell go off in his head before saying that. No bell at all? Really?
MAKE UP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
The longer you stay mad, the more self-righteous you become. Not giving in makes everything worse. The quiet game and grudge match serve no purpose. The issue grows and grows and being ignored becomes a part of the anger too.
The most frequent advice given from longtime married couples is “Don’t go to bed angry.” Making up should be the end of every argument. Even if some issues don’t get handled right away and keep coming up. Ask yourself, “Is trash duty or (fill in the blank) worth divorcing over?” Most often the answer is no, so don’t make the problem bigger than it is.
FORGIVING YOUR SPOUSE
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
I had a friend whose husband cheated on her. I remember telling her that she faced a hard reality: either she had to be the bigger person and forgive him so they could move forward or she needed to divorce him if she couldn’t get past this. There wasn’t really an in-between because if you harbor resentment or keep bringing up the infidelity, it becomes a wedge in your relationship forever. Marlene Dietrich, a German actress and singer was known to say, “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.” So the wronged one has to let it go. It takes strength of character to do this. I’m proud of my friend.
Cheating isn’t the only reason you will need to forgive. I have another friend whose husband played online gambling. She thought he was just playing a fun game. Then she discovered he had gambled away their entire 401K savings. They were in their 60s and had to start saving for retirement all over again. Her heart was so big she forgave him. But it takes a conscience decision to put another’s transgressions in the past and leave it there.
“Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are.
Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.”
If you are the one who wronged your spouse, apologize sincerely and ask what you can do to make things right. Saying sorry is important, but so is forgiving. People aren’t perfect. Apologies are necessary to right the wrongs. Forgiveness doesn’t condone the sin, but it does allow the relationship to move forward.
Here’s what I do know. People get things wrong. They mess up. They say inappropriate things. They hurt you. But . . . you do the same. Internally, you might ask what’s the big deal when you’ve messed up? You think they are making something out of nothing. Overreacting. But when it’s happening to you, you think how could they? Why would they do such a thing? There are two sides to every coin. It’s all just a matter of perspective.
I once heard a story about two people sitting at an airport waiting area. The woman had bought her lunch and was sitting eating her sandwich when the man next to her reached into her bag of chips on the table between them and took one. She wasn’t sure what to do but then just took a chip as well. The man smiled and took another chip. The woman still didn’t know what to do and this went on for some time until the bag was empty. She couldn’t wait to tell her husband about this strange encounter of the man eating her chips. As she settled in after boarding the plane, she looked down into her carry on and saw her own chip bag.
Sometimes it’s you. Sometimes you are the one being awkward and stealing chips, but in your head, it’s the other person. We don’t all have the clarity of a chip bag to straighten things out.
To boost the joy in marriage, we must fight right. We agree to ask for what we need, respect our spouse enough to forgive, and make up sincerely.
Chapter Challenge: Use the KISS-KICK-KISS method. Try this formula the next time you need to address an issue with your spouse. Praise, then clearly state the problem, then follow up with more praise.