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.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake I Made in My First Marriage: The Argument For Arguing

  1. During my marriage we had arguments, sometimes very loud and hurtful arguments, that eventually would diffuse over time – short or long. They usually didn’t end with apologies, or the typical makeup sex that I have read about for years and have yet to experience. If there was an apology it always came from me. Forever the fixer, the giver.

    One thing that I knew/felt during our marriage was that some things were not to be argued about or talked about. I felt that there were “off limits” subjects, anything that showed my dissatisfaction with our relationship, or concern/curiosity about our finances, and was usually met with a less than supportive or caring response. I had tried this a number of times early on but came to the conclusion eventually that it was not a safe bet for our marriage. And it scared me. Scared me to think that it could all be taken away from me if I pushed too hard. Scared that it would blow up. Too scared to put it into words out loud during the last few years, but knowing that something was off.

    Looking back, I wish that I had had those hard conversations regardless of the possibly negative outcome and really paid attention to how they got resolved – or if they ever did. The lessons were there, I just couldn’t bring myself to face them and admit that maybe this wasn’t the right person for me for a lifetime. The lesson has been learned now, at least I hope so, and I have no intention of running away from the tough conversations or glossing over the ugly spots in any future relationship. If you can’t trust that they will weather the storms with you, you shouldn’t be in the same boat together.

  2. During my marriage we ALWAYS argued. He was so arrogant and closed minded. He was always acting like he was always right without hearing anyone else out. If you disagreed he’d spite you. It was insane.

    My relationship now we don’t argue exactly. We disagree, we voice these but we don’t fight. He doesn’t allow it to get that far. Granted it’s hard to DISCUSS things without feeling like someone is attacking you since that’s what I’m use to — and sometimes I’ll say some stupid shit but he tries to understand my feelings or why I said what I said.

    I think this is one of the times were communication is definitely important. I am however glad I can’t relate to my friends when they straight up COMPLAIN about their husbands!

  3. We had a ‘great’ marriage for 23 years. I didn’t know it but she left at the 22 year mark. (No argument).

    We rarely had arguments. We did have a few impasses over the years. I was given a few ultimatums, typically about picking up and moving to a new part of the country ‘where things would be better’ for XYZ reasons.

    I had come from a family that was comfortable having arguments. My ex was not. I witnessed how her family seemed to ‘get along’. I thought they had a better model for being. I tried to learn it and emulate it. (such a mistake on many levels)

    The dysfunctions in the no-argument family came to full light when we separated. The dirty laundry of family history spilled out of closets left and right, repainting our own relationship.

    Now, arguing is an important part of a healthy relationship.

    These two paragraphs really resonated too…

    “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.”

    It’s not just about whether there is argument. There’s also learning how to have effective arguments as a couple. Learning how to grow together even when a problem has no compromise (sometimes a compromise is worse than either of the other ways as it ends up twisting everyone).

    To sum up my own knew perspective,

    Lack of argument is a lack of a vital part of communication.

    Lack of effective argument is a lack of part of effective communication.

    It is possible to argue and still find the things that bring us together. After all, we were attracted to and fell in love with our partner for a lot of good reasons. They are unique and that means, different from us. There will be differences. Love the part above about appreciating their differences too!

    Thanks for this article today!

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