The Biggest Mistake I Made in My First Marriage: The Argument For Arguing
My ex-husband and I never argued.
We never disagreed on where to go to dinner. We didn’t fight about what color to paint the kitchen. There were no quarrels over where to go on vacation. We didn’t even engage in debate over politics or religion.
We either agreed about everything or made the decision to acquiesce (often made without any conscious participation) in order to avoid any conflict.
I thought this was a sign of a good marriage, an indication of a well-matched pair. I would listen to my friends detail their frustrations with their partner’s dissenting viewpoints and breathe an internal sigh of relief that I didn’t have that predicament.
And then he left.
Without an argument. Without confrontation. Without a spoken word.
He simply stated his plans via text and pulled out of the garage and out of my life forever.
And I had the strangest feeling. For the first time in my life, I wanted a fight.
When I chose my second husband, one of the traits that drew me to him was his comfort with conflict. Not only did I want that in a partner, I wanted someone that could help me become better at acknowledging and addressing points of contention.
It hasn’t been easy to go from never arguing to becoming comfortable (or at least not feel threatened) with disagreement. Yet, even as I’m learning, I’ve come to appreciate the value of marital discord.
Promotes an Environment of Honesty and Transparency
I walked into the house and saw a Kindle box on the kitchen island. This was in 2008, when the devices were still far from cheap. And our coffers were far from full. Surprised at the purchase, I turned to my husband. He began to lay out his (rehearsed) justification for the acquisition (something about travel and book prices… never mind the fact that he never visited the public library two miles down the street).
I didn’t buy his reasoning. The device seemed frivolous and indulgent and, in light of the fact that we had just dropped major money on the house, stupid.
But in the interest of marital harmony, I bit my tongue, swallowed my words and allowed a silent agreement. Which according to the financial records I recovered after the divorce, he perceived as an invitation to continue to spend recklessly and secretively.
When arguments are allowed, it’s harder for the truth to remain tucked away in clandestine omissions and calculated lies. An environment where dissenting opinions are routinely shared encourages transparency and honesty, both healthy qualities in a marriage.
Allows Practice Having the Difficult Conversations
I really didn’t like mums. Yet when he professed his affinity for the autumnal blooms, I readily agreed with his assessment. It was stupid of me, pointless even.
Everyday disagreements provide opportunities to listen to dissenting opinions without feeling personally attacked or threatened. The low-stakes arguments become a practice ring, where the delicate footwork of negotiation and compromise can be practiced and improved upon.
Because at some point, in every relationship, there will be a major disagreement. The kind that potentially alters how you view the person and may even threaten the very core of the relationship. And you don’t want to go into that fight as a rookie.
Provides an Opportunity For You to See Your Partner at Their Worst
We often choose to form a relationship with someone because of how they are when they’re at their best. But a clear picture of their character won’t emerge until they are stressed, emotional and maybe even responding to a verbal barrage.
In other words, people show you who they really are when you’re in a heated disagreement with them.
This is an opportunity to see how they respond when the going gets tough. Do they accept responsibility or deflect it? Do they easily admit mistakes or lob attacks in defense? Can they maintain control of themselves? Are they able to find humor amongst the tension? Do they retreat and if so, is it temporary or long-lasting? Once you’ve seen the worst, you know what you’re accepting with your vows.
Encourages You to Recognize Your Partner as an Independent Entity
When you’ve been together for a long time, the edges can become a bit blurred. As you share experiences, your opinions and views have a tendency to become more similar. But no matter how like-minded you are, your spouse is an individual with his or her own perspectives, beliefs and conclusions. And an argument is a great time to be reminded of that.
One of the cruel truths about marriage is that we are excited by and attracted to novelty. And there’s not much opportunity for the unfamiliar in a long-term relationship. Yet when you hear your partner say something surprising (and in opposition to your stance), it allows you to see them in a new light.
Presents Opportunities for Problem-Solving and Early Intervention
My favorite arguments are the ones that end in my husband and I working together to problem-solve a solution. We may have started on opposing sides, but we transition to working as a team to defeat the issue (instead of trying to defeat the other person).
Disagreements act as flashlights, shining light on the problems that potentially threaten the relationship. When these issues are brought into conscious awareness, they can be addressed and potentially resolved before they grow too big to root out completely.
Serves as a Reminder For You to Own Your Stuff
It usually takes me some time to recalibrate after an argument. Some of this stems from my residual anxiety about abandonment (if my ex left without a fight, what does a fight mean?) and some is just from my overly sensitive and analytical nature (if I take this disagreement and crosscheck it with what happened four years ago…). And none of this has anything at all to do with my now-husband.
Disagreements are a (sometimes painful) reminder that we are responsible for our emotions, our own reactions and ultimately, our own well-being. At the end of the day, all that stuff that’s in your brain is yours. So own it.
And while we’re on the subject of arguments, here’s some pointers on how to fight fairly with your spouse.