A friend and I were having coffee, catching up with each other, and talking about how much our kids seem to be paying attention and noticing. I told her about some of the random things my not-quite-two-year-old has been saying lately, like, “Oh my goodness!” and, “That’s okay.” We laughed about the silly things her elementary aged kids have gotten into and the seemingly serious conversations they appear to be having with each other. Then she told me about something a bit more heartbreaking that her seven year old son said to her after she and her husband had been fighting in their bedroom one night.
“Mom, when you and dad are arguing, why don’t you just stop? Just stop doing it.” She was so sad that her son had been so affected by what she thought had occurred behind closed doors that she started to tear up. She put her hand on his shoulder and then he said, “Or, maybe instead of fighting, you could just text each other.”
I felt for my friend. She’s navigating territory that I have yet to enter into – children old enough to understand and communicate how their parents fighting is affecting them. His words were sweet to his momma, and wise, and pretty funny. Who knows, he could be the next great marriage therapist! It got me to thinking about my own fights with Tony and I wondered, why don’t we just stop?
Maybe because if we stop, our spouse will feel like they’ve won. Or because we just have to get our point across and make sure we are being heard. Or because we are hurt and they need to hurt with us. Maybe one of us won’t overlook an offense. Maybe the other won’t admit a mistake. Maybe we both refuse to let go of our need to be right.
I think what this sweet boy was trying to say to his mom is that he hears their fighting and it makes him feel insecure. He wants to know that everything is ok, that they love each other, and that their home is safe and full of peace. He asks why they don’t just stop because, in his mind, the lack of conflict – yelling, arguing, fighting – means that there aren’t any problems. What he doesn’t understand now, but he may someday, is that all couples fight and it is not a bad thing.
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer share that the difference between a marriage that grows happier and one that grows more miserable is not whether they fight, but how they fight. They say:
All fights are not created equal. A good fight, in contrast to a bad fight, is helpful, not hurtful. It is positive, not negative. A good fight stays clean, but a bad fight gets dirty. According to researchers at the University of Utah, 93% of couples who fight dirty will be divorced within ten years.
Do you feel like the fights you are having with your partner are good fights or bad fights? Do you think they are mostly good, with a little bad sprinkled in? Are they mostly bad? You might think these questions are just a matter of opinion; the fight is good if we say it is. However, research shows us that we can figure out exactly what makes a good fight or a bad fight. Check out this info we found in The Good Fight…
It’s a daunting list. Some of these need a lot more explanation, and Les and Leslie offer great insight in their book. But, they also say that if you boil the essence of a bad fight down to a single ingredient, it would have to be pride. Look back at the Bad Fight column of the chart. Do you see it? I do, and I see now more than ever that I am guilty of it.
Most of the fights Tony and I have start when I feel like I haven’t gotten my way… pride. They escalate when I hear him say something that reveals my own selfishness… pride. I move into my classic silent-treatment mode when I see that I might be wrong, but I’m not yet willing to give in… pride.
Look again at the chart. See that last line? The benefit of a good fight is growth and intimacy. Holy crap if they didn’t just nail the very thing I want most in my marriage! I want Tony and I to grow together. I want us to experience real and vulnerable intimacy. My pride does absolutely nothing to help us get there, but laying down my selfishness might. Evaluating where I am coming from in a fight could be exactly what I need to go from escalating the tension we are having to easing that tension.
In marriage, we’re not going to stop fighting. We shouldn’t even think that the absence of fighting is the goal. What we should do is figure out how to get better at it. As for me, I’m going to start with one little habit that I hope will make a difference. I’m going to pause. Before I enter into the fight, I’m going to check myself for that little pride monster. I’m going to look at this chart and evaluate my motives. I’m going to take a deep breath, think about taking responsibility instead of blaming, and then decide how to bring up what’s bothering me. I’m going to try to have more good fights and less bad ones so that Tony and I can grow together and #staymarried.
P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like Show Some Respect and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!