Finding joy and happiness in a life that is full of responsibility and chaos a daily challenge, and it is infinitely harder when arguing with your spouse.
Arguing with my husband is my least favorite thing to do. Like, least favorite out of all the things I dislike. I’d rather have a splinter in each toe, I’d rather have a paper cut on each finger. I’d literally rather have a terrible haircut while eating melon*, and being forced to listen to Brown Eyed Girl covered by an off-tune singer who doesn’t know how to play guitar. You feel me, here? Hate it.
*I hate melon, with a passion. I can’t eat it cause it’s gross, and I hate that I can’t eat it because it’s 80% of all fruit salads.
And I know that no one likes arguing with their spouse, but not everyone is up against an Olympic medalist of an arguer. My husband grew up in a household of arguing. His parent argued, viscous arguing, mean and intense arguing, and still argue to this day. He has literally been training for arguments his whole life.
I, however am not a good arguer. I mean, I am good at it now because of the 13 years of honing my skills with Eric. But, I grew up with parents who didn’t argue until right before they divorced. For me, arguing means the relationship isn’t working and it’s time to split. For Eric, arguing just means we’ve got something to talk about angrily until we resolve it. Very different world views here.
I have never been candid about this aspect of my relationship, in my writing. No one likes to talk about the deficiencies in their marriage, and it’s especially hard for me because I am very concerned about the image that I portray. I never want anyone to think that I don’t have things completely together and under control at all times. Also, I’m trying to make my way in the world wide web, as a new blog, and don’t want to be seen as someone who is flawed, or who doesn’t know how to work through the difficulties of my marriage. But the truth is, that I am flawed, and I do have difficultly navigating the more challenging aspects of my marriage. Especially the arguing. And that is why I am writing about it now.
When I have a bad argument with my husband, the world crashes down, my heart breaks, and all I want to do is crawl in bed and sleep for days. Is this dramatic? Yes, of course it is. But I am a dramatic, sensitive person, and this is how it feels. And it’s not healthy. I can’t afford to be derailed from my work, or my blog, or my family. And I certainly don’t have the time or resources to sleep for a week.
So since the focus of this blog is finding joy and happiness while juggling the pressures and responsibilities of mom-life, I figure it’s a great place to work through this problem of mine.
Finding Joy and Happiness When Arguing With Your Spouse
In order to get my arms around this, I’m going to lean back on my 10 years of work experience as a safety professional and problem solver: What is the issue, what is the root cause, what action items can come out of this, and how can I verify those action items for effectiveness?
What is the Issue?
The issue is not that we argue, everyone argues, the issue is that the arguments completely deflate and derail me. They make me stagnant and I stop focusing on the things I enjoy.
What is the Root Cause?
The best way to get to a root cause is to ask the 5 why’s:
Why does arguing make you retreat?
I retreat after an argument because I am sad and feeling hopeless. I feel like I am in a bad marriage and I feel like Eric thinks everything we fight about is my fault which makes me feel bad about myself.
Why does arguing make you feel sad and hopeless? Why do you feel like you are in a bad marriage?
I feel sad and hopeless because fighting makes me feel like my husband doesn’t care about what I have to say or how I’m feeling. The feeling of being in a bad marriage is because I feel like we are always fighting. I feel like everything is my fault because my husband always argues about what I did, even when we are arguing about something he did.
Why do you feel like your marriage isn’t working and that everything you argue about is your fault? Why do you feel like your husband doesn’t care about how you are feeling?
I feel like my marriage isn’t working because we fight so often. When I first heard my parents fighting it was the same night that the word divorce was said out loud for the first time. My husband’s parents still fight, and although they never got divorced, they are unhappy. I feel like everything is my fault because when my husband fights he wants to win and he wants me to see his side of the story, more than he wants to hear what I have to say.
Why do you fight so often?
We fight so often, because we have been together for 13 years and have a lot of baggage. We are holding grudges for past infractions. And we know how the arguments going to go and we are pulling from past pain.
Why are you pulling from the past?
We have established really bad habits over the years, and we slip into old patterns when we argue. So we just start and don’t stop to think about how our words are going to hurt the other person. We fight until we feel we are heard, or until one of us just gives up. And that person is usually me.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s explore these further.
What Action Items can be taken to mitigate these issues?
Marriage counselor Liz Higgins says:
I completely — and wholeheartedly — see couples as extensions of their systems, connected to the origins of the unique worlds they each come from. – Liz Higgins // Your Partner or Your Parents: Who Are You Married To?
My husband and I are both extensions of how we grew up. When we start to argue, my mind immediately goes to a place of divorce. I think that this marriage will never work because we are always fighting, and I should get out now before it gets worse. My husband, having a short fuse, and growing up in a household full of fighting, just starts fighting and doesn’t stop until he’s won the argument, or I understand and agree, so that we can end it and move on.
Then, there is the need to understand that we are both coming from a place of pain. I want him to know that what he did hurt me, but he can’t address that because he wants me to know that what I did hurt him. We are essentially engaged in a never-ending battle of “you started it”.
Most everything that anyone does to you or towards you is about them, not you. – Liz Higgins // You are not that special…But you ARE special.
And I’m thinking that I am not just hurt because of what happened today, I’m upset about the thing he did last week, and five years ago, and ten years ago. I can lump it all into one big cause of pain, and that cause is named Eric. We have been together since college, 13 years this November. 13 years is an enormous amount of time to build up an endless supply of hurtful things said and careless actions taken.
So what actionable items can we take from this to change the narrative and come out of an argument constructively, and not completely devastated?
When an argument starts, take a step back and clearly state what it is that you are arguing about, and why you are upset.
For example, “I am upset because you didn’t call to get the donations taken out of the house, like you said you would two weeks ago” #truestory
Focus on the one thing and stop yourself from saying “it’s just like the time when” or “you always do this”
If you do say something along these lines, stop and refocus. Say, “let’s just talk about this time, let’s not talk about the past.”
Keep yourself present, and remember that this person is someone you love and someone you’ve committed to for a reason.
Remember those reasons and remember that you know where he is coming from and you know he wants to win and he wants to be heard. Hear him and make sure he hears you.
Now on to feeling like it’s all my fault. Eric has said that when he fights, he keeps going because he wants to win. He wants me to understand and agree so that we can move on and we don’t have to spend a week being upset with each other. He wants to be heard and he wants me to understand what he’s saying. Hey! That’s what I want too! There’s something to that!
So what actionable items can we take from this?
- Ask the question – “This is how this makes me feel…how does it make you feel?”
- Repeat what he said and have him repeat what you said. When you repeat what was said you aren’t just internalizing what you think he said, you are confirming what he actually said. And he does the same.
- Understand and process what was said and ask him to do the same.
Now you’re talking, you’re not arguing. Now you’re hearing each other, you’re understanding each other and you can resolve the problem. Doesn’t that sound easier than arguing? No, it doesn’t. At least, not at first. It will take time, and practice. It will take love and understanding. But hey, isn’t that what we committed to when we got married? Didn’t we take vows that alluded to this very thing?
What’s the Bottom Line?
When I look Eric in the eyes, I fall in love with him all over again. His eyes are the same they were when we met. Sure, there are more wrinkles around them, and his beard is a lot grayer than it once was. But his eyes are the same beautiful blue eyes.
Marriage is hard, having kids is even harder, keeping everything running smoothly or even remotely successfully is downright exhausting. But the love in my husbands eyes, and the sweet smile on his face when he’s happy, is easy. This is where I find joy and happiness. These are the things that made me fall in love with him and the things I still fall in love with to this day.
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