I have been married for a long time. Although, at the time, I certainly didn’t feel like it, looking back, emotionally, I was still a child on my wedding day.
Like everything in life, with our very young marriage came the good, the bad, on the ugly, and through it all, we pushed on. This August, my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.
According to Statistics Canada, almost every four in ten marriages end in divorce these days, which is a staggering number, albeit, not at all surprising. When I was growing up, one of my friends’ parents were divorced, now, my daughter, who is in the eighth grade, is hard pressed to find one friend with a family still together.
While I absolutely do not presume to be an expert in marriage, I have had a successful one for the past 15 years, so I will let you in one piece of advice we received on the day we got married, because it was instrumental in getting us here:
Never go to bed angry.
I’m sure you have heard this before, you may have even received this advice at your own wedding. It sounds crazy and impossible, but in 15 years, we have lived by this and it has served us well. I don’t want to wake up feeling mad or resentful or hurt at the person who is supposed to have my back. I don’t want to walk through my day with feelings of anger and a sense of sad anticipation that when we get home after our long work days, there are things to fight about or lingering ill feelings. That is not a positive or healthy way to live, especially in a marriage.
So, how does a couple go about fighting fair and fostering healthy conflict without losing too much sleep? Here are some things I have learned over the years:
Be willing to fight. Conflict isn’t bad. In fact, healthy conflict is a good thing and is inevitable in all relationships. The key is to be honest with yourself and your partner when dealing with conflict.
It takes two to fight. Remember, there are two sides to every story, and be open to the thought that you aren’t always right. Your partner’s feelings are valid too.
Listen first, talk second. You may have learned active listening in elementary school, but for most people, that goes straight out the window when a fight begins. In the heat of the moment, the last thing I want to do is pause and let my husband talk, and if I do let him talk, a lot of the time, rather than listening, I am already planning my rebuttal. Instead, hear what your partner is actually saying before jumping in with what you have to say.
Compromise ok OK. This doesn’t mean you are giving in, it means you have heard both sides and neither of you is right or wrong. At our core, we are selfish beings and we want to win. A compromise is willing to admit to admit that you both have valid opinions and you are choosing a resolution over a continued stubborn battle where one side is forced to concede everything (which can quickly lead to resentment).
Passion versus purpose. Have you ever been in a fight that starts in one place, usually about something small, and builds to something entirely different, maybe even something you didn’t know you were mad or upset about? This happens to me all the time because I bottle things up until they boil over. Often, my anger is actually just a need to vent and yell, and when I take time to process my feelings and thoughts, things become more of a conversation than an argument.
Do not keep a list of wrongs. Please, please, please do not keep track of all the times you feel you have been wronged to be dragged out at every argument. Forgive, forget and move on. Deal with one issue at a time and then let it go.
Respect your partner. Don’t name call, try not to swear at your partner, keep the argument private, and remember that you have chosen to love this person for better or worse. Fight clean and fight fair.
Don’t hide from your kids. If you have children, it is OK that they hear you argue, especially if you are respectful of each other. It is important for kids to hear what healthy conflict sounds like, and it is equally important for them to see that you have resolved the conflict and you still love each other and them.
With 15 years together, some very late nights fighting, crying, and slamming doors, we have always found a resolution, a compromise, or a solution, and I have never woken up with a feeling of anger towards my husband. This is a choice we made the day we exchanged vows, and I am thankful for the wise advice. A relationship is a lot more than the things you argue or disagree about, so don’t let them dictate a premature ending – choose to fight it out, fight for your partner and your love.
Disclaimer: This will very likely work when both sides are willing and wanting to make it last and make the relationship work, and both sides are fighting honestly and fairly. I cannot attest to the success if these things are not the reality of the relationship. This is a commitment we made and have to continue to work at.
Essay on Marriage was originally published in Dote Magazine Weddings Volume 2 which is available for purchase here.