How do you fight with your spouse? For those of us who have a lifetime partner, the art of arguing is a valuable skill. This brief article, and the one following, are going to propose that it is possible to navigate marital conflict. I can’t claim to have the step by step guide to arguing, but one thing I have learned is that it is better to fight WITH your spouse than AGAINST them. I do give a few practical conflict navigation steps in the next article, but first things first, is spousal bickering to be expected? Simply, yes.
Indulge, if you will, this illustration from the adventures of a small child. My young daughter knows that having fun hurts sometimes. When she gets dirty, bumped, bruised, or otherwise banged up while going about her half-pint life, I often have occasion to hold her and say, “If you’re not getting dirty sometimes, you’re not playing hard enough.” She likes the saying, and much of the time will finish the adage herself before I get the chance. She understands that often getting dirty and even small bruises along the way is a sign of a fine adventure.
I see marriage that way too. If my spouse and I aren’t occasionally experiencing relational scuffs or small bruises, then we aren’t “playing” hard enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for some sort of misplaced recklessness or “tough love”; you won’t see me applauding carelessness or handing out boxing gloves at wedding nuptials. Arguments should not be the primary mode of communication between spouses. But, I do believe that if we aren’t experiencing the sting of disagreements, and unmet expectations, we are misunderstanding the adventure of marriage.
You and your partner are very distinct and unique. You are on an adventure to know and be known by the one whom you choose to love. Unless you were born into an Egyptian dynasty two millennia B.C. , your spouse does not come from the same background, same family, and same everything as you (King Tut was married to his sister). The life that each of you brings to your partnership is gloriously you, and amazingly them… remarkably different.
When my wife and I met, similar demographics, age, race, socioeconomic status, and ideology were all reasons that we fit well and chose to be together. However, we very quickly realized that she’s female and I’m male, she’s east coast and I’m west coast, she’s an optimist and I’m a realist… the list goes on. These differences cause friction, just as gravity causes my daughter to hit the deck sometimes. Some intense experiences have helped us learn to expect and respect this inevitability. What about you?
Simply, the more couples learn to respect the natural inevitability of their differences, the conflict will not sting as badly. Sometimes my little girl is more surprised by her fall than hurt by the contact with the ground. In cases where she thinks she is stable and still crashes and burns, the fall smarts worse. In these cases, validating her pain and helping her take a quick inventory of working joints goes a long way toward returning her to fun and adventure quickly. Conflict with your spouse can be similarly addressed.
My wife and argue; sometimes it hurts. Expecting perpetual stability translates to believing in perpetual met expectations and constantly wanting similar things. The reality is that our inner Mother Theresa will not always dictate our behavior toward our spouse. We cannot expect to sacrifice self and to have pure motivesall the time. By eliminating some of the shock of these natural disagreements, disappointments, and disillusionment, we often can return to the love of our partnership more quickly. A bit of validation of our spouse’s pain, along with an inventory of our deeper love for each other can go a long way toward getting back up from an argument.
As the 1980’s bumper sticker said, “Conflict Happens” (or something like that). It’s okay that it does and expecting it can make it smart less. Part 2 of this article will focus on how to navigate this conflict to minimize the hurt, and maximize the intimacy it can bring. If you would like more information about our marriage counseling services, please get in touch today.