Marriage is work

My wife and I don’t fight very often (because a simple “yes dear” or an “I’ll show you: I’m gonna do the dishes” pretty much takes the wind out of her sails. Question my manhood all you want, but I get to watch my shows in peace). One of the first things my wife and I had to learn was how to have an effective fight. It’s not something that couples think about very often. Too often I hear “oh, we’re such a perfect couple. We never fight.” Really? Perfect? How wonderful for you – though I contend that you aren’t a real couple until you’ve had a fight and figured out how to resolve conflict effectively.

My wife and I are notoriously bad arguers. Seriously. When it came to simple disagreements, we were prone to arguing our points, seeing the merits to the other person’s view, then BOTH switching sides and arguing the exact opposite point we originally were. Yeah, that could go on for a while. Our knock down drag outs, however, worked on a different level. I will freely admit that part of the trouble in our dynamic is a function of my charming personality. I don’t fight very much: I pretty much say what I have to say and then won’t waste any further breath until you come to the realization that I am right. She’s more of a “the louder I get, the more likely my point will sink in” type. So a lot of the time we went in circles of quiet condescension vs. volcanic eruption. In other words, not a lot got resolved.

We had to set up rules for fighting. Now, we did this during our calm moments, but we had to figure out the best way to convey what it was that was troubling us to the other person in a way that would get heard. My wife grew up in a house of yellers, so that’s what she knew. I grew up in a household with a yeller and quickly learned to tune said yeller out because nothing frustrates a yeller more than someone not only not responding in kind, but staying calm to the point of being condescending. My special brand of charm aside, I like to resolve things as I go. If something is bothering me, I mention it then or give myself the 24 hour rule (if it still bugs me the next day, then I’ll mention it, otherwise it was not worth bringing up). My wife tends to let things build up more, but she also doesn’t like to have a lot of things sprung on her because she needs time to sort through issues.

As our fighting styles have evolved (I know, it sounds like marriage-fu), our heated discussions have taken a variety of forms. Early on was our e-mail fights. I kid you not. I would receive an e-mail informing me of how I screwed up, the history of my error, and what I could do to resolve this. You can only imagine how an argument done in my home element of writing ended: eventually she ended up yelling. A few months later, as our argument styles continued to find its level, came my attempt at yelling. It doesn’t work well when in mid-point you shout “how do you keep this up? I’m only yelling to see how the other half lives. This kinda hurts.”

For the most part, we have rules like: no letting things build. Should a fight start, there is a mandatory half hour to hour break to re-group and allow things to sink in. That night, pray for the other person. Simple rules which have made our lives a lot easier (again, excepting my more charming moments). Now, the reason that I got to thinking about all of this was because not too long ago we had what I now call our “silent fight.” Can I tell you something? Stupidest. Fight. EVER.

It started because, stay with me now, I am a bit of a control freak. We had just moved into our new house and I like to have a room that is perfectly picked up and organized. It’s calming for me, like staring at a piece of art. I had chosen our guest room. Unfortunately, my wife, ever more practical than needing a piece of art, didn’t get the memo. There was a basket full of hangers that she needed out of the way because she hadn’t figured out where in the house to put it. So it was in the room that I had perfectly organized. I know you non-OCD folks might not get this, having something out of order is like nails across the chalkboard of your brain.

So I moved the basket.

Just into my closet, but the basket had to go. Well, my wife needed the basket where she knew where it was. So she moved it back into the middle of the floor. I spied this one time when walking by the room. So I moved the basket. To the garage. She moved the basket back to the room. With authority. At this point, it wasn’t about the basket, it was about who was going to get the last wordless point in. That poor basket did a lot of traveling throughout the house. Here we were, two grown folk, pissed at each other without saying a word. A problem that could be solved with a simple sentence that both of us were too proud to give (first) voice to. The only time we even acknowledged that we were having a fight was when we had to go to a wedding. Someone wanted to take our picture and my comment to her went something like this:

“Smile like you really like me.”
“Oh, I can smile. You haven’t seen what I did with the basket yet.”
“In that case, I’ll smile and I reserve the right to be pre-emptively pissed.”

Ah. Good times. Anyway, my wife and I are on vacation this week. Checks from stories haven’t come in yet, so our originally scheduled vacation/trip to BEA was canceled. Instead, we are spending the week at home, simply hanging out with each other and doing nothing. No driving across country spending gas money we don’t have. No running around doing the frantic tourist thing. No coming home from vacation in need of vacation. During this time, I have come to realize that men and women tend to function differently when it comes to cave time. I realize that I have to balance needing cave time vs. needing to have someone come into my cave and drag me out.

To my wife, my cave is just another room for her to decorate.

I’m telling you, marriage is work.

I don’t have time to always check the comments all the places where this rant is posted. If you want to make sure that I see it or just want to stop by and say hi, do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.