We set out a small cigar box at our wedding with little blank cards and asked our guests to share some advice for our marriage. Sometime after our honeymoon, Tony and I opened the box and began to sift through these sweet little notes. There was one that stood out from the rest. It said, “Don’t fight over the butter.”
Karen and her husband Kevin are a couple of our best friends, so it was simple to get an explanation out of them. They later told us their story…
One of the first and most volatile fights they ever had was over butter. Karen bought butter… or was it margarine? … and then it turned out she didn’t like it. Something about it grossed her out and she knew she wouldn’t eat it, so she threw it away. Kevin, realizing that Karen threw out an entire brand new package of butter was irritated that Karen would be so wasteful. She, in turn, was irritated that he was trying to make her eat disgusting butter. He dug it out of the trash and put it back in the refrigerator. She refused to use it, so there it sat as a little reminder of their huge fight.
Thankfully they can both laugh about it now and agree that the butter was not worth the fight. “Don’t fight over the butter” has become a way for them to remember not to fight over little things that ultimately don’t matter, which is what she wanted us to remember for our own marriage.
Another way to put it is the often used phrase “Choose your battles,” which is the basis of the late Dr. Richard Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. In it he writes:
The truth is, life is rarely exactly the way we want it to be, and other people often don’t act as we would like them to. Moment to moment, there are aspects of life that we like and others that we don’t. There are always going to be people who disagree with you, people who do things differently, and things that don’t work. If you fight against this principle of life, you’ll spend most of your life fighting battles.
A more peaceful way to live is to decide consciously which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone. If your primary goal isn’t to have everything work out perfectly but instead to live a relatively stress-free life, you’ll find that most battles pull you away from your most tranquil feelings. Is it really important that you prove to your spouse that you are right and she/he is wrong, or that you confront someone simply because it appears as though he or she has made a minor mistake? Does your preference of which restaurant or movie to go to matter enough to argue over it?
If you don’t want to “sweat the small stuff,” it’s critical that you choose your battles wisely. If you do, there will come a day when you’ll rarely feel the need to do battle at all.
Choosing your battles wisely seems simple enough when we’re not in the middle of dealing with some heated emotions. How can you know which battles are worth fighting and which ones to let go of? Maybe the next time you think you’re about to lose your cool over the butter, you could ask yourself a few simple questions.
1. How important is this to me?
This question alone can be enough to avoid a lot of unnecessary conflict. Choosing your battles is not about being taken advantage of and having your feelings stomped on. It is instead a matter of prioritizing, deciding which issues are worth your time and which simply are not.
2. Can I bring this up in a way that doesn’t make my spouse feel attacked?
You’ve asked yourself and decided: this is worth bringing up. Now it’s about your approach. Instead of coming out with your dukes up, consider the best way to get your complaint heard. Most people don’t respond well to being yelled at or criticised, so try a calmer approach. Maybe something like, “I saw that brand new package of butter in the garbage and it really bugged me. Why did you throw it away?”
3. Now that we’re fighting, is this worth it?
There will be times when you don’t realize that a battle was not wisely chosen until you are already in the middle of it. Now that you’re there, think about what you can do to end it well. It’s possible that you do not think this is worth fighting for, but your spouse absolutely does. In that case, it is vital that you don’t dismiss their feelings. Tony and I have been in this place more times than I can count and there are a few phrases that help us both calm down. One of us might say, “Honey, I don’t want to fight about the butter, but I do want to understand you better. Can we take a break?” Sometimes a break is all we need to gain some perspective and be reminded that ultimately we both really love each other.
It’s true, not everything is going to be worth fighting over. Constant nagging, criticizing, and nit-picking is divisive and unhealthy. The sooner we figure out which battles are worth it and which are not, the more time we can spend in that happy and peaceful place in our marriages, that place we are all striving for. Choose your battles wisely, remember you’re on the same team, and #staymarried.
Get Your Free #staymarried Love Notes
Sign up to be the first to hear about new blog posts, podcasts, speaking events, and giveaways! As a treat, we’ll send you a free set of printable love notes straight to your inbox.