First, just allow me to apologize. I am forever one step behind when it comes to trending articles, videos, fads, etc. You can hear me saying things like, “Wow! So how about that Zumba?” two years after everyone else started doing Zumba. Maybe I live under a rock. Maybe I don’t watch the news often enough. Maybe it’s all of these things. But despite this delay, I almost always eventually figure out what everyone is talking about/loving/hating/eating/watching.
That was a rather lengthy preamble to introduce an amazing article (and yes, it’s from 2009). I stumbled across this gem from columnist Laura Munson. It’s a piece she did for The New York Times entitled “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.” I think everyone should read it. But if you don’t, the story in short is that after 20 years of marriage her husband requested a divorce, claiming that he didn’t love her anymore. Rather than rage, cry, become vindictive, or shut down completely, she chose to not believe him. She spent a summer giving him all the space he needed to be unreliable and unhusband-like, all the while remaining stoic and putting up with his shenanigans like a saint. In the end, they stayed together.
I can completely relate to this piece. No, I have not yet been married for half a lifetime. I don’t know the exquisite pain that must go along with hearing those words from your partner’s mouth after building a life together. I do, however, adopt the same tactic when it comes to marital spats that Laura Munson suggests. Rather than fight back, I fight passively. This was not always the case.
The absolute hands-down worst fight of our entire relationship occurred on August 20, 2010. Whoever claimed that the first year of marriage is the hardest wasn’t kidding. It doesn’t matter what we were fighting about on that evening – what matters is that a series of smaller fights over the previous three months culminated into a spectacular volcano of pure anger that lasted well into the next morning. I should probably mention that we were married that May. And while that fight was raging I truly believed that our marriage was over.
Many men turn into their father. My husband has plenty in common with his dad, it’s true. But mostly he is exactly like his mom (sorry, Cindy). When he is worked up and combative, he tends to say things that aren’t true. My biggest mistake for those first three months was believing those things. So when he said things like, “I hate you. This is terrible. You’re the worst thing on Earth. I’m leaving you,” (um, I have cleaned this up considerably. You don’t want to know what he really said) I fought back. Then he fought back. And then the fights became something out of a terrible, terrible soap opera.
The secret to fighting with him, I finally realized, was to believe absolutely nothing that came out of his mouth. Or even to believe the exact opposite. Because not only does he not remember half the things he spews while going off in a fit of fury, he also doesn’t mean them. Ever. It was a hard lesson to learn and sometimes it’s a hard lesson to practice. It’s a lesson that Laura Munson took to heart on a much, much larger scale. I’d like to think I would have the courage and strength to do the same.
I have no idea if this method is considered “healthy.” It’s sort of like refusing to negotiate with terrorists, I think, and in this scenario his dramatic proclamations are the terrorists. By denying them validation and praying they go away quietly, I am weeding out the truths from the exaggerations. I am separating the real arguments from the overinflated petty bullshit.
We still fight all the time. It’s part of what makes us us and it goes hand in hand with a passionate relationship that I can’t live without. But now the knock-down, drag out fights of legend are fewer and farther between. I no longer live in fear that our next fight will be the end because learning how to fight properly has instilled a sense of security in me. I don’t know how, but so far it’s working.
Of course, he definitely just read this entire post, so he’s on to me now. I’ll let you know how it’s going in three months.