I’m realizing now that this is the first time I’ve decided to write a post about my marriage, such a huge facet of my life! Truth be told, I’ve come to feel like talking about my marriage could, and probably would, bite me in the ass. There have been many times when I opened up to friends and family about my relationship, just to have them tell everyone else I know. On a few occasions, it got back to my husband, which embarrassed him deeply.
Obviously, facebook would like to have you believe that all of your friends have perfect marriages, but no one’s marriage is perfect at all. Of course the reason for this is that no one is perfect, and a marriage is made up of two people that are in constant flux, making mistakes, and trying to meet all of their goals and the expectations put upon them. With kids and careers in the mix, it’s easy to treat your other half as just another detail. Sometimes you mess up by forgetting a promise you made, other times you may say something that is completely unforgivable.
The main thing you absolutely need to work out any fuck up, no matter how big, is a common goal. If the identified common goal (a healthy marriage) is the major game plan, all the little details that make up an argument such as what was said, what was done, who was right and who was wrong are just minor things.
My husband and I actually started counseling when we were engaged and have been in counseling on and off ever since. I highly recommend it. Though we’ve only been married for 3 years, we’ve been friends and lovers for 7 years and have had our fair share of blowouts and pettiness. We’ve had public screaming fights, minor squabbles in the car, days upon days of begrudgingly ignoring each other. The one thing that has saved us each and every time has been something that I first saw when my parents went to counseling as a very young girl.
The counselor recommended to my mom and dad that they take turns holding the remote control to the TV with the rule that anyone who was holding the remote had total license to talk about how they felt. No one else was allowed to talk or interrupt them while they were holding the remote, and they were allowed to hold it as long as they wanted to. Even though my parents ended up getting divorced, this one silly tool made such an impression upon me that as an adult, when my counselor asked me to describe what the positive things my parent’s marriage taught me were or recall a time when they weren’t fighting, this was the one and only thing I could remember.
Though my husband initially laughed at the idea, by god it worked miracles! So pretty much every time my husband and I get into a fight, we use this method. I’m not going to lie, it takes a goddamn long time to do, and often you have to wait until both people have calmed down, but it is so much better to express the anger, the sadness, the regret, the misunderstandings, this way then to keep it inside or try to talk it out in little bits and pieces. It also models for our daughter what it looks like to work out a disagreement peacefully rather than hold it in and act subtly rude to one another.
This isn’t a new idea, many cultures have used some sort of Talking Stick to deal with major decisions among a group of people. Not only is the Talking Stick symbolic of a person’s personal power in a conversation, it reminds everyone to stay focused on what is being said rather than to focus their attention on coming up with a rebuttal to what is being said. I honestly believe that there is no more perfect method than the Talking Stick. Even now that my husband is deployed, and most of our communication is done through text, the principle of the Talking Stick has rescued us from nasty fights. All you have to do is type up an email and ask the other person to imagine that you are holding the Talking Stick, and then get everything out. It is best of course, to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For instance it is much more productive to say “I was offended when…” rather than to say “You offended me when…”
This makes the conversation less accusatory and more expressive, which makes the other person more understanding and less defensive.
The major thing to remember about marriage that is so easy to forget in the heat of an argument, is it is a collaboration and not a competition. Even if you were to win every fight, it would not be a true win because the other person would lose. The real win comes from compromise or collaboration. When both people can identify what they want in the situation, then it becomes a matter that’s as simple as identifying a way to meet those needs that both can agree to.
Breaking the habit of being passive aggressive, name calling, shouting, blaming and volatile is the hardest part. Like anything else in life, this method takes practice. The more my husband and I have done this, the easier and less awkward it has become for us to do. Each time I remember to use it, I grow more and more capable and prepared to use it next time we need it.
I hope that this method helps you in your relationship or marriage, and if you have any other tools that work wonders for you I’d love to hear about them!