So, Michael and I never fight.
Except, you know, every other Wednesday or so.
And then sometimes on Mondays.
With an occasional Tuesday thrown in.
And a handful of Thursdays and Fridays.
With the odd Saturday as an option.
But never on Sundays. Unless we’re running late for church, can’t find the car keys, have to chase the dogs around the block who escaped our backyard for thousandth time, or spilled coffee on our Sunday best while bolting from the front door to go, you know, worship God and stuff.
Okay, so maybe there is some conflict from time to time. Sometimes a lot of the time. And sometimes very little at all.
It’s the ebb and flow of two people still figuring out after over a quarter century of marriage how to live together, communicate better, leave off selfishness, and esteem another human being as higher than our individual selves.
Sometimes it’s a gorgeous dance. And sometimes it’s just a hot mess.
Michael has a big personality. He’s opinionated, passionate, vocal, emotive.
I have a big personality. I’m opinionated, passionate, vocal, emotive.
And Michael is stubborn. And I’m not. Except when I am. Which is usually.
So how are we supposed to navigate the mercurial waters of marriage, particularly when we have a built-in audience watching that dangerous crossing? If there are kids in the home, there’s always someone watching, always someone intuiting, always someone conscious of the overall climate of the home.
I’ve known people who grew up in a home where they never, ever, ever saw their parents fight.
Which at first blush seems super noble and amazing.
But in later years, these same people have brought an expectation to marriage that there should never be any conflict, no hint of disagreement. They bought into the well-intentioned but misplaced fantasy marketing of a clash-free marriage.
And then I’ve known people who bear the battle scars of their parents’ hostile, contentious matrimonial combat theatre, front row seats to manipulation, verbal abuse, screaming, silence, pugilism in all its shades and ugliness.
Both groups of witnesses, those of the friction-free experience and those of the unfettered fight experience, often find communication and conflict difficult in marriage.
I don’t want to do that to my kids. I don’t want them to think Michael and I never disagree. I don’t want them to think that all Michael and I do is disagree.
What is the harmony? What is that balance of demonstrating to our kids how you can deeply love someone while not always agreeing?
While Michael and I are still figuring out the dance steps of conflict choreography ourselves, we’ve arrived at a few things that seem to create a reasonable environment for sorting out the details of disagreement that neither whitewashes the moment but neither coats it with lighter fluid.
- No matter the issue, this is key: don’t just fight. Fight for your marriage. Look, if the goal is always to make your marriage better, your communication improved, your connection stronger, you can’t lose. In marriage, there should be no victor and no vanquished. Both partners should walk away from a ‘discussion’ as champions, champions for the relationship, advocates for rapport. And in the doing, if your kids are aware that there is vigorous discussion going on, they will see modeled real time the way to keep the value of the marriage central to any discord.
- If a moment of misunderstanding is playing out in front of the kids (long road trips come to mind…ahem…), respect, measured tone of voice, affirmation, and cooperation are a must. Conflict between parents can be terrifying for kids. One of kids’ biggest fears is that parents will not remain as a unit. Yelling, screaming, caustic tone, and vicious sarcasm have no place in marital wrangling, and especially not in front of kids. To be blunt, those tactics are abusive, both to your partner and to the people having to listen to the assault. Under the wise adage ‘more is caught than taught’, your children will learn the mechanics of relationship challenges from you. If what they witness is dirty tricks, psychological scheming and screaming, and domineering debasement, they will emulate and inculcate what they see into their relationships, including their relationship with you. If you can’t fight fair and you can’t fight for the marriage, whoever might be watching, then don’t fight, at least not without a qualified referee, also called a counselor, at the ready. Just don’t.
- Insuring our kids having a solid template for conflict resolution does not mean they should be privy to all marriage conflict. While I think that presenting a marriage with no challenge is disingenuous, neither should kids be saddled with having to see every difficulty played out before them. There are times that Michael and I start down a road of debate and then realize that this could be an extended play session, with possibly some heated moments. We then table the topic until later, when we can circle up in the relative private of our master closet and continue the, um, discussion. The beauty of exercising that self-check is this; it demonstrates again to us that, if we have the self-discipline to put off a conversation until a more appropriate time in private, then we can certainly exercise that same self-discipline in controlling tempers and tongues. And there’s another side benefit. Sometimes, if Michael and I do have to put off a discussion or we get interrupted, when we return to that mental and emotional conference table, we find that we’ve actually forgotten what the big deal was in the first place. A little time and distance can adjust the perspective and importance of strife.
The collision of two souls, the fray of two hearts, the reactions of two people raw with stress, decisions, and good old fashioned fatigue can sometimes enter the canvas of our homes and blunder its way into the view of our kids. And it’s not all bad. It’s a potentially powerful training ground, a necessary epistle if we wield it well. Its legacy can be the gorgeous message that two messy, stubborn, bullheaded people can let love and the Lord preside, if we’ll fight for our marriages.