Hubs and I were out to dinner one evening with another couple, and we got into a hilarious debate about who spends more money, men or women. It was all fun and games until my friend’s hubby announced (a bit pompously), “Well, I make most of the money, so I should be in charge of how we spend it.”
The silence that descending on the table was thunderous. She looked at him and simply said, “Wow.” Oh, this was bad. Bad. Hubs leaned over and whispered, “Grab the check and let’s get to the car before there’s bloodshed.” Doing the adult version of Dine-and-Dash, we quickly dined, paid the bill, then dashed out to the car to avoid getting hit by falling shrapnel.
Marriage experts tell us that almost all couples fight. No matter how much in love you are or how averse either of you may be to conflict, it’s just not possible to be together day after day, year after year, without disagreeing about anything, ever. But marital fighting, like any sport, has rules. These rules are designed to keep a fight that started about why you’re never, ever supposed to squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube from evolving into grounds for an expensive, protracted divorce, bankrupting both parties and reducing Saturdays to parking lot exchanges of the kids at McD’s.
Postpone your arguments. In other words, take a breath and agree to talk about it when tempers haven’t gone from zero to sixty in under eight seconds. Nobody is going to fight fair when one of you is bawling, screaming, or threatening to Bobbitt the other person’s reproductive regions.
Allow time-outs. Hey, it works for kids. Go to your corners, go for a run, or go check your email. But for the love of God, do not go on Facebook. The universe does not need to know that Hubs is currently being an all-star jackass and you probably should have married his best friend, Brad, and furthermore, he recently got hair plugs. Remember, you will love him again, but if he sees that post, he might not feel the same way about you.
Don’t “kitchen sink.” Try to stay focused on the disagreement at hand. Arguing about how he forgot to feed the cat this morning is not the time to rehash, for the 147th time, his spontaneous and embarrassing drunken karaoke rendition of “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt” at your company Christmas party.
Don’t involve other people. “I think you’re a idiot, and so do all the women in my book club” is virtually guaranteed to escalate even the tiniest spat into a full-on body contact sport.
Listen to what your partner is saying. This goes past not interrupting. It includes passive-aggressive, non-verbal responses. If you’re looking for a smackdown, drag ’em out fight, throw in a little eye-rolling, yawning, or smirking while your partner is talking. It’ll get you there before you can run for cover.
Have a list of topics that are off-limits. If you previously forgave him for sleeping with your college roommate the week before your wedding or for running over your beloved Chihuahua last Christmas and not exhibiting the appropriate amount of remorse, these are on the “Never-Never” list. Your partner has every reason to cry foul if you bring these up, even “just as an example” of how he’s acting like a horse’s backside, again.
Don’t ask for a divorce (unless you really want one). This is a difficult bell to un-ring. Most people don’t blurt this out without it having ever crossed their mind. So now your partner knows you’ve been thinking about it and the possibility exists at any sign of trouble in the marriage. It’s difficult to maintain confidence in the marriage during hard time you’ve essentially announced that you’ve got one foot out the door, waiting until that inevitable day when he’s pissed you off just one too many times. Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.
Don’t insist that you’re not angry, when you obviously are. You’ve been slamming doors, exhaling deep, martyred sighs, and replied to every comment from your partner with stony silence or monosyllabic grunts. Unless you’re on your first date and he thinks might just be your personality, he knows you’re ripping mad. So now you’re going to have the original fight, plus the one you’re going to have about the way you fight. Grab some wine. It’s going to be a long night.
Avoid the use of “Whatever,” at all costs. Years ago, “Whatever” used to imply that you were laid back, agreeable to pretty much anything, and just wanted everybody to be happy. But when you’re in the middle of a standoff , answering “Whatever” to any question is going to be interpreted to mean “I don’t give a crap anymore. I’m done even trying to talk to you. This conversation is over.”
With these guidelines in mind, Hubs and I had recent tiff, during which he huffed, “I’m really pissed at you right now.” He looked so Grumpy Cat, I did the worst possible thing. I burst out laughing. “I can see that,” I grinned, “Do you want a divorce?” “WHAT?? No!” he shouted, looking horrified and insulted. “Well,” I said, “That means that you intend to forgive me at some point. If you’re going to forgive me later, why don’t you just forgive me now and save of both all that unnecessary stress?”
As he slammed the door, I heard him mumbling something about “hating you just a little bit right now.” Oh, look. His truck is peeling out of the driveway. That must mean we’re taking a time-out.
Yep, we’re good.