My husband (SC) and I had our first squabble maybe three or four weeks into our relationship. I can’t remember what it was about, but I must say, we both handled it with grace and poise. Looking from the outside in, it seems that neither of us felt the need to be right per se. It was more about hearing the other person’s perspective and finding common ground. I think it was in that moment that I knew I was in love and I knew that this would work. We promised from day one to be perfectly honest with each other. Sometimes honesty is a double edged sword, but the blade is duller than if one holds on to what irks them.
If I have learned anything in the last 3 and a half weeks, it’s that disagreements once you are married hold a hell of a lot more weight than those you have when you’re dating, even when the disagreement is pointless.
Any time SC gets annoyed, I automatically worry about the strength of our bond. I think things like, “Does this mean that this is over? Is he going to leave,” etc. If you recall, we got married to close the exit doors. Even so, it feels like there’s a lot more to lose now. Our emotions are heightened, and as a result, our tones of voice are a little more combative. Because we are still getting to know each other we accidentally push buttons we didn’t know existed. Fight or flight is the default response because human brains are wired that way for survival. Not only do we have to contend with the issues at hand, we also have to train our brains to remember that the other person means no harm. We are a team.
Thinking that this thing, this commitment is so fragile that it can’t withstand a difference of opinion is absurd; at the same time it means so much that it takes conscious effort to remember that words said in distress are not in fact another nail in the coffin. There is no nail, and there certainly is no coffin. There are only things to learn and teach and problems to be solved.
He, like, I, would prefer to solve problems, even if that means one of us takes a walk and gathers our thoughts via text. I don’t necessarily recommend the texting thing, but he tried it out one day and it worked. Something interesting happens for us when we communicate our frustrations using the written word. I’m not talking about venting a frustration via text when one or both of us is out somewhere. I’m talking about us stepping away from an argument, taking separate walks or drives, and texting back and forth. Surprisingly, even though you cannot convey tone over text, it affords me the chance to slow down, read, re-read, ask questions, ensure that I understand his point of view, and draw my own conclusions, even when he uses all caps. (Why do people do that?)
Once we have calmed down, we return to the same space and review what we need to.
Let’s walk through an example, shall we? It gets more absurd as it goes on, and there are a lot of moving parts so bear with me:
SC promised to do laundry one Sunday, but did not. It was now Tuesday and I started sorting and washing as soon as I got home from work. SC is still in his lease for his apartment for the next few weeks. We live in the desert and the air conditioning at SC’s place is far from adequate. Yes, that is an issue for the state’s tenant’s association, but in the meantime, he had two rabbits and two cats living there.
That same evening, while I was doing laundry, he went to check on the pets. One of the rabbits was dead. It happened right before he got there; rigamortis hadn’t even set in. He alerted me via text. The high was 122 that day and I didn’t hear from him after that for over an hour. When I finally got him on the phone, he was disoriented, distressed, and frantic. I could not get a coherent sentence out of him. That’s not like him at all. He was as much at risk for heat stroke as the remaining rabbit, Babs was.
My first thought was I have to get him and Babs, out of there. The cats would be okay because they could lay in front of fans and the barely there air conditioning. I suggested we bring Babs to our place immediately. I drove down and he flipped because in the moment I did not consider what he wanted to do. I could argue my case to you, dear reader, but that is not the point.
I sat quietly in the 100 plus degree apartment watching him move the rabbit cage and multiple fans around the space trying to get her area to a comfortable temperature, one comfortable enough for her to remain in the apartment for the next 5 weeks. Twenty minutes later, he gave up. As we hustled Babs to my car, I mentioned that we had to cover the seats because I did not want to ruin the leather interior on the vehicle I’m about to trade in. In his mind that meant I cared more about the car than helping him. Not the case, but I can see his rationale.
We put Babs up in the guest room with my sun conure, Marley. I returned to tackling the mountain of laundry while he got Babs settled and faced his feelings about the recently deceased.
I abhor folding clothes. (Residual resentment from my tenure in retail in my late teens and early twenties, perhaps?) Five loads in, I posted something on Facebook about laundry being the bane of my existence followed by a number of hashtags highlighting my first world problems and how starving children should be so lucky. I thought it was funny. SC posted a comment about how he’d help if he weren’t grieving.
Michael, a now former friend of mine, saw SC’s post and stepped in, because he thrives on drama. I hadn’t talked to Michael about the laundry situation, and to date, I’d not asked for his help with any domestic situation. He had the audacity to call me to tell me to have SC delete his post. I asked him to back off, explained the pet death, and that I would handle. Instead, Michael, who has never met SC, took it upon himself to berate my husband on facebook less than a minute after I told him to back off. SC took that as me talking smack about him, although I’d mentioned nothing to Michael and he acted on his own volition. That turned into a larger argument about the integrity of our union. SC threatened to break us up over it. I knew it was an empty threat, but it still rocked me to my core.
In addition, worried that Babs would be distressed, or worse, die overnight, SC slept in the guest room with Babs and Marley. The following night he said he’d be sleeping in there again, not so much for Babs, but because he thought it’d be good for our relationship. He rehashed everything that happened the night prior from my desire to bring Babs to the condo, to the laundry, to Michael’s interference. I didn’t argue.
I’m an Aquarian, so I’d been craving space. We’ve done everything together for the past two and a half months. I needed a quick respite, but that was not the break I was looking for. He was grieving and he knew my standpoint. He’d either come around or he wouldn’t. So I treated him like a roommate, no good mornings, no kiss hello or goodbye, no have a nice day, no communication throughout the day. If you read the previous post, you know he’s been texting me every day since February. (In fact, he is texting me right now.) He eventually sent his thoughts and feelings via text. Although I did not respond, it gave me a chance to consider where he was at, which I hadn’t done before.
I guess he thought about it all because the next night when he got home from work SC got down on his knees and wrapped his arms around me. He told me he understood now that him sleeping in the guest room made me feel like there was a possibility that he would leave me. He apologized for making me feel that way and promised he would never make me feel alone in the relationship again. Can he really promise that? No, but I appreciate the sentiment.
We’ve had heated discussions over more pertinent issues such as raising our future children and agreeing not to make unilateral financial decisions. I used this particular situation as an example to highlight what we learned about some of each other’s triggers. I learned that he wants to be consulted about decisions. He’ll absolutely go along with what I say if it makes the most sense, but he needs the chance to put in his two cents. Not feeling like an equal partner seems to set him off. He learned that I don’t do well with being shut out, that when I am pushed away, my automatic response is to shut down. Can you see that both of those involve unilateral decision making? Aha.
So we have to remember to consider the other party when making decisions. We are both so used to operating as singular entities, that we need to remember we are a unit now.
And we are learning. In fact, last night we had a discussion we’ve had many times, one of those where we end up agreeing to disagree until further notice. This time I really saw his side and I could see he really saw mine. Neither of our reasons changed. The only things that changed were our methods of delivering our thoughts and feelings, our receptivity to the other’s thoughts and feelings, and ultimately, our desire to compromise. No buttons were pushed and both parties were engaged. We are, in fact, learning how to communicate effectively.
I imagine trivial situations that lead to disagreements will crop up in the future, but I trust now that we have the skills, patience, and enough respect for each other to work things out as our union continues to grow.