15 Years of "I Do": Learning to Fight Well After A Decade and A Half of Marriage

*Photo credit: Devina Lopez Photography

If I'm being really honest here, our marriage didn't start to get healthy until year 10. I spent the first decade passive-aggressively communicating my needs while he tiptoed around my feelings. I thought slamming doors was a good way to relay my feelings and would eventually lead to a heartfelt conversation that ended with "I love you's" and feeling closer than ever. My 20-something self was quite naive if you can't tell!

We had fun together, for sure. We went on dates, traveled the world, started a family. We enjoyed time with our kids and fixing up our home. But when conflicts arose we had no idea how to resolve an argument that didn't end in tears and stone-walling. After a decade and a half into marriage, communication has been our greatest area of growth. Here are a few things I've learned along the way.

Go To Bed Angry

You may have heard the saying, "don't let the sun go down on your anger", which is a direct contradiction to going to bed angry. But hear me out... I always believed we shouldn't go to bed angry. In fact, I feared going to bed angry. I would push and push for us to resolve a fight if it took until 1 in the morning, but let me tell you, NOTHING good comes out of your mouth when you are tired and angry. And no one wants to hear the other person out when all they want to do is go to sleep. For us, fighting late at night typically ended with a quick "I'm sorry" and sweeping any major issues under the proverbial rug. After years of trying to solve issues at all hours of the night, we started going to bed angry, and tackling the issue the next day when we were (somewhat) rested and had a fresh outlook on things. After a night of sleep your autonomic nervous system has calmed down, you can think clearly, communicate better, and have the energy to hear your partner out. 15 years in we have learned to put arguments on hold if it is late at night.

Solve Problems in a Public Space

This one is probably another unpopular opinion, but again, let me explain. I always thought it was best to fight behind closed doors. Keep in private, hidden, and where no one else can see. And while I do believe there may be some issues that need to be discussed in the privacy of your own home, some of our most productive "heated arguments" if-you-will, have happened at a restaurant. And I believe there are a few benefits to this.

For starters, most people are self-aware enough that they aren't going to raise their voices in the middle of a restaurant. They also most likely aren't going to storm out of the room and slam the door behind them like they can at home. In a restaurant, or any public space, you're seated. You're across the table from each other, looking each other in the eyes, and in a posture to hear and be heard. For us, there's also a drive to see the argument/issue/fight through to the end, for the sake of getting on with your night together. Date nights are a luxury for us and we don't want to waste them fighting. But if there is something we need to discuss, setting aside 30-sometimes 60-minutes of our date to figure it out and get on the same page, is worth it. Then we can order that drink, enjoy that appetizer, and go back to having fun together which was the entire point of the date night in the first place.

Fight (and Reconcile) in Front of Your Kids

Years ago I read a book called Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. In this book the authors tackled a number of various topics and issues related to children, one of them being conflict resolution skills. They studied various children who witnessed conflict in their home in all sorts of ways: parents who stopped their fight midway and finished the rest behind closed doors, parents never fought in front of them, parents who fought and resolved arguments in front them, etc. What they found was that those children who saw their parents fight and resolve their arguments, in front of them learned what conflict resolution looked like and typically displayed less aggressive behavior when they were in conflicts themselves with peers. This was eye-opening to me and completely changed my view on fighting in front of our kids, something I previously thought was a "no-no".

While some discussions do need to happen without our kids present (see point above), I don't stop every arguments midway and finish it later when our kids are in bed. Especially since by then, we have absolutely no energy to have a productive conversation! When issues arise we typically need to settle them in a timely manner when they happen, and that's usually while our kids are around. When we fight, we've learned to hear each other out, apologize when needed, forgive, and reconcile right there in the kitchen with our kids sitting at the breakfast table. The more we can model healthy conflict for our children and walk them through the process of reconciliation with each other during their MANY sibling squabbles, the healthier they will be as adults in their own marriages one day, learning to communicate well with their spouse.

Throw Out the "D-Word"

I'm going to get really vulnerable here and say something I'm sure lots of you can relate with....my fight or flight instincts are STRONG! There have been times in our marriage where I head down the road of doom and entertain thoughts of this whole thing ending. I start thinking of all the ways we are different and all the things we see through different lenses and that gets me into a deep dark hole where I want to throw in the towel and say this isn't going to work. BUT--something we have committed to before we were even married, is that we would never ever---EEVVERRR--say the "d-word": divorce. It's not productive. It doesn't speak life over our marriage. And it completely goes against every single vow we took on our wedding day. So while yes, we are opposites, and yes, we see life through different lenses, we always have the common ground that we are in this for the long haul, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death due us part. End of story.

Listen Before Fighting to Be Heard

This last lesson has been a hard one for me. I'm an enneagram 2 and have a deep desire to be seen, known and fully loved. Because of that, anytime I feel the opposite of these things I feel a strong urge to state my thoughts and feelings as loudly as I can. My husband is one of the best listeners I have ever met. There has never been a topic or conversation he won't enter into in the past 15 years of marriage and he has truly taught me what it means to be heard. Because of this, I'm learning to be more quick to listen than I am to fight to be heard. It doesn't mean I don't get to state my thoughts and feelings on an issue, but I do try to hear him out rather than steam-roll over him with my opinions. I'm still growing in this area but it's a lot better than it was back in our newlywed days!

I would have loved for someone to tell me all of these things when I was 22 and about ready to walk down the aisle. But marriage is a marathon, not a sprint and we are in it for the long-haul which means mistakes and growth is all a part of the process. Each day we wake up and say "I do" yet again, hurt each other's feelings, apologize, forgive, reconcile, and learn to love better than we did the day before. Marriage is the hardest and best work I have ever done, and there's no one I would rather commit each day to than this guy above.


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