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Posts tagged ‘love’

How to Fight…errr…Communicate With Your Spouse

Odd subject for Valentine’s Day?  Maybe.  But one of the biggest secrets to a successful long-term marriage is figuring out how to argue with each other without irreparably damaging the relationship.

Just to clarify, when I say “fight” or “argue”, I don’t mean the knock-down drag-out verbal battles that pop up (hopefully) very rarely in a good relationship.  I’m talking about the little debates about who’s washing the dishes, which car to buy, etc. that can pile up in any marriage.

Couples who tell me they “never argue” just don’t understand the meaning of the word.  Because I firmly believe that a couple that always agrees on everything every day for years on end is in a coma.  And comas aren’t healthy.  Come on – people disagree with each other.  It happens.  Especially when you’re sharing a bathroom.  For years.  If you can disagree without ever raising your voice, as some people claim, that’s great (and please tell me your secret!), but it’s still a debate/argument/negotiation/fight, at least for the purpose of this post. 

I’d love to give an example of the stupid things we argue over, but I can’t remember any.  Why not?  Well, for one thing, sometimes we don’t end our arguments discussing the same topic that we started with.  And that’s the dangerous part of arguing – a silly vent/rant can become a grudge match if you’re not careful.  The little quibbles over crumbs on the counter or empty toilet paper rolls can easily end up drifting to “you don’t respect me”; “you don’t appreciate me”; or, at its worst, “you don’t love me.”  Fortunately, we’ve never reached the point of doubting our love for each other, even when we’re really ticked off.  Healthy debate is an art, and it’s something married couples have to work at constantly to keep the marriage fresh and balanced.   

There are a few philosophies out there on “how to fight”.  One oldie is the idea of holding hands while you argue.  It has merit – how can you stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with?  You can’t stomp away, and there’s no point in yelling if you’re that close.  And trying to stay mad when you’re holding hands usually leads to both of you giggling uncontrollably.  The problem?  Arguments start at the drop of a hat, and once you’re angry (after tripping over his or her shoes for the fifth time this week), the last thing you want to do is walk over and hold his hand!  The hand-holding thing works best when you know a conversation might eventually get tense (“honey, I’d really like to spend our savings on a new flatscreen TV…”).  If you plan in advance, and assume the hand-holding position early on, it can help both of you stay more calm. 

And of course there’s the golden standard – “never go to bed angry.”  I’m not so sure I support this one as much as I used to.   Hubby is one of those guys who just goes to sleep when he’s tired, angry or not.  I’ve been known to poke him to keep him awake so that we can work through some conflict and I can know we’re not going to bed angry, because that’s against the rules.  Which, of course, makes him angry.  Frankly, we’ve gone to sleep mad (or at least annoyed) a few times, and it’s been just fine.  A good night’s sleep does wonders, especially if you’re arguing about something as silly as leaving the toilet seat down.  Just as it’s hard to be mad at someone when you’re holding their hand, I’ve also discovered it’s hard to be mad at someone you’re waking up with…for the 5000th time.  We tend to just give each other a bashful “love you” while brushing our teeth, and move on with our lives, because again, who can remember what started the argument in the first place?  And who has the energy to carry it into day two?

One of my favorite tips came from a recent blurb in Reader’s Digest.  It basically said to treat your spouse like a dog.  Seriously.  If you love animals, then you know how well your dog is treated, right?  After Fido chews up your favorite slippers, sure, you’re mad as hell.  But then he looks at you with those puppy-dog eyes and you know he didn’t really mean it, and you forgive him.  Uses the dining room rug as a bathroom?  Smack a rolled up newspaper in your hands and kick him outside, but you know an hour later he’ll be curled up in your lap getting his ears scratched.  Yes, I’m talking about the dog. 

But the same can work for a spouse – really.  It’s all about intentions. I don’t intend to forget to empty the trash.  Hubby doesn’t intend to leave the cupboard door open.  I don’t intend to put his favorite cotton shirt into the hot dryer.  He doesn’t intend to track mud into the living room.  And aren’t those silly things the primary irritants in a good marriage?  If I can forgive a four-legged mammal for its carelessness, then I can forgive my two-legged mammal, too.   

On Saturday, we were driving through some bad weather on the way to a wonderful Valentine’s weekend get-away.  Hubby was behind the wheel, and pulled out to pass another car in some very dicey snow conditions.  I held my breath and grabbed the door (it was admittedly an over-reaction).  He chuckled and asked me how the brakes were working on the passenger side of the car.  I glared at him, and said “I’m picturing you as a puppy right now…”  And we both laughed out loud.

And that’s the best “secret” of all – laugh.  A lot.  If you remain aware of how silly a disagreement is, and bring that silliness to the attention of your spouse, how can you really stay mad?  As soon as one of us slips up and says something like “you ALWAYS…” or “you NEVER…”, the other will just start laughing and say “Really?  Never?  Never ever?  Are you sure?”  It might start with just a smirk, but pretty soon a smile is there, and then a laugh, and then we’ve forgotten whatever stupid thing we were arguing about. 

Communication is the key.  And that includes communicating when you don’t agree.  And that’s going to happen, so you may as well figure it out now.  I’m happy to say that I think we’ve done that pretty darned well in our marriage. 

So, as we head rapidly towards our 15th wedding anniversary….Happy Valentine’s Day, my Love!

Marriage = Work

Happily celebrating Christmas Eve 2009 together

Being married is work.  Hard work.  Rewarding work (usually….).  But work just the same.

I was in love with old Hollywood movies when I was a little girl.  I grew up thinking that people just had to gaze into someone else’s eyes and BAM!  – they were in love.  The bells rang, the music crescendoed, fade to black, all was happy forever after.  Often the moment of love occurred in the middle of some big conflict – “Oh you brute!  You’re an awful man!”  Then the hero would grab the heroine by the shoulders and plant a big kiss on her.  She resisted (just for a moment), then melted into his arms.  Ah…love.  It Happened One Night.  Gone With the Wind.  The Philadelphia Story.  The African Queen, When Harry Met Sally, The Proposal.  It’s apparently a very reliable plot line.

This rosy-hued image of love and marriage was reinforced by the gothic romances I was reading.  As a teenager, it was Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, where the plucky governess always ended up with the lord of the manor (who was usually a rogue she had to tame).  As I matured, so did the romance novels, and the scenes became a bit more…um…explicit.  No fade-to-black here.  There was a lot of throbbing and pulsating going on.  I made the mistake of offering a fairly tame novel to my mother back then, and she promptly pronounced it to be “smut”.  But that didn’t stop me.  Janet Daily, Katherine Woodiwiss (“A Rose in Winter”…oh, my…), and Jude Deveareaux, whose “A Knight in Shining Armor” is probably the best romance novel ever (or so I thought at the time).  

But I digress….   The point is, all those romances were about the magical qualities of falling in love, and spent very little time looking at the “ever after” part. 

Falling in love is wonderful.  Staying in love is hard work.  As the glow of the early courtship fades and familiarity begins to settle in, a couple needs to decide how they’re going to make it work long-term.  If you don’t figure that out early and commit to it, a marriage can spiral into complacency – the true opposite of love when it comes to relationships. 

Complacency is always lurking at the edges of a marriage.  Let’s face it – once you reach the point where you’re flossing and toe nail clipping in front of each other, it’s easy for passion to take a back seat.  And all those cute little quirks that were so amusing and endearing when you were dating?  Well, eventually they can become downright annoying.  Infuriating, even.  That’s when you need commitment.  When you have to look at your spouse and see what you love about them, beyond the burps and farts and forgetfulness.  There are times when I am shaking in anger at my husband, and he has those same moments with me.  But we work past them.  We talk them out (sometimes loudly, I’ll admit).  But we keep communicating until it’s settled.

Like many marriages, on paper, logically speaking, there’s absolutely no reason our marriage should work.  He’s full of Irish passion and temper.  I’m a quiet WASP.  He charges through life full speed ahead, with a take-no-prisoners attitude about everything.  I’m the worrywart who frets constantly (“what if they don’t like me”  “what if someone gets hurt” “what if we get caught?”).  I can’t bear to break any rules, right down to insisting on following “use this door” signs as if the police are waiting to arrest me if I don’t.  He lives to break the rules in every way -devil-may-care, live life for the moment.  He’s the ultimate “morning person”, leaping out of bed before dawn, ready to tackle the day.  I am the opposite of “morning person”, crawling out of bed only under duress, and I’ve been known to put the milk away in the pantry and the cereal in the refrigerator.  He won’t hesitate to get in someone’s face for some injustice rendered.  I am mortified at the thought of causing a scene.  He’s loud.  I’m not.  He loves crowds and parties.  I’m happy with a good book and a glass of wine.  I cry at commercials.  He laughs at me while I’m crying.  And yet it works – magically well.

After a certain number of years, good couples (the ones who WORK at it), become not only partners, but each other’s true soul mate.  And more importantly, they become keepers of the secret shared stories. 

Sixteen years ago, shortly after we’d met, my husband and I faced the ultimate test of a new relationship:  assembling an entertainment center from what seemed like 200 pieces of wood and assorted parts that came out a very large box.  We were still “courting” back then, so we were trying to be pleasant.  He was grabbing pieces and putting them together in whatever order he found them in, insisting he didn’t need the directions.  I was fretting over making a mistake, and finally, exasperated, I said through gritted teeth, “Honey, I really think we should follow the instructions they gave us.”  His response?  “Don’t ever call me ‘honey’ in that tone of voice again.”  We stared at each other for a minute, then burst into laughter.  That comment is still one of our touchstones to this day.  If we use the word “Honey” in that exaggerated  tone, it’s a flag that things might be getting tense, and will (usually) lighten the mood – “Honey, I really think you should have taken that last exit….”

That’s just one example, but all good couples have them – those secret stories that can be referred to as a way of setting a current event into perspective.  A word.  A touch.  A look.  The secret language of experience for the couples who have figured out how to navigate the paths of relationship-building.  No one but my husband and I knows why saying the word “woof” can end a heated debate with a smile.  That’s our secret.  And those secrets are precious. 

Every anniversary, we celebrate another year of shared stories, fiery debates, daily laughter, family joys and sorrows, changing waistlines, career challenges, money made and money lost, evening walks hand-in-hand, and cuddles in bed.  We know each other’s faults and gifts in detail.  We have made a commitment to be partners in spite of or because of them.  Hardly a week goes by that one of us doesn’t look at the other and say “we are so fortunate”.   At the end of the day, it’s his smile, laughter and love that are my life support. 

Fourteen years ago today we exchanged our vows on a warm Sunday afternoon.  Whew.  What a ride it’s been so far!  All that work paid off.  I can’t wait to see what the next fourteen years (and more) bring our way.  Happy anniversary, my love.

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