This past summer, a Jewish couple moved in next door. The first few weeks, my husband and I would see them in passing as we carried groceries or our napping three-year-old into the house. They'd be sitting on their front porch watching their three young boys rough house on the lawn, each with a yarmulke securely fastened to his head.
By late autumn, the arguments began. Through the paper-thin walls of our old West Philadelphia row homes, I could hear the wife screaming on several occasions, "You're a nobody and that's why nobody respects you." His reply, "Respect isn't paying bills or allowing you to be a stay at home mom."
It was typical arguing that any couple faces, particularly when two parents reach their breaking point every few months when it all becomes too much. As entertaining as the arguing could be at times, it reminded me of a gem actor Will Smith dropped on wife Jada's Facebook live show Red Table Talk while appearing as a guest on the season premiere. There he made a decent point about the ground rules he had made for the marriage after witnessing domestic violence in his own childhood. Already having one divorce in the works upon meeting Jada, his rules included the banning of profanity and violence in the household, a rule he jokes that wife Jada responded to by cussing him out. It made me think of the concept of "struggle love" as it refers to going through dark times with someone and helping them grow from unhealthy ideas vs. recognizing someone just isn't on your level and when you need to leave for your own self-care.
Marriage doesn't mean you completely know someone or accept all their flaws, but it does mean you're committed to working through difficult times with them.
Arguing changes when you're in a long-term relationship and building a life with someone, especially one that involves children. Before I got married, I didn't understand that living with someone day in and out, you'll routinely have periods when your partner just irks your soul. I recently spent a whole weekend trip slightly annoyed because my husband forgot the Spicy Funyuns I set aside. It wasn't a big deal, but he did manage to remember his Twizzlers, which I hate. And every time I saw him gnawing on red licorice, it was a reminder of how he rushes through things and sometimes forgets small details. Yes, all that over some onion-flavored corn snacks.
Arguments are unavoidable in a relationship, but every disagreement doesn't have to end in a battle royale, destroying one another's character and self-esteem. The next time you find your inner petty rising to the surface over your partner bringing the wrong road trip snacks, take into consideration the following:
1. Find a Partner Whose Arguing Style Complements Your Own
If you're "Shared Netflix Passwords" deep into a relationship, it may be too late for this, but it's important to find someone you can resolve conflict with, even after trading insults and expletives. When I am angry, my tongue needs deliverance. In the past, I've dated men who would trade F-bombs with me until what started as a minor disagreement ended in thrown toiletries and tears. (I almost blinded my ex-boyfriend with a stick of Suave antiperspirant). Those arguments were clearly unhealthy and got nowhere. When I met my husband, the one thing that stood out is that he wouldn't go blow for blow with me. He'd walk away until we both calmed down. It left me with some prime insults that will never see the light of day, but it also led to a healthier way to resolve conflict and kept me free of a criminal record.
2. Choose Your Battles
The dishwasher they forgot to unload. The dirty socks laying right next to the laundry basket. The fact that he left you on "Read" for twenty minutes. If I chose to tap into my inner petty every time I became slightly annoyed with my husband, I'd be the Savion Glover of arguing. In all seriousness, a stroke is third leading cause of death for Black women. Not every minor inconvenience is worthy of raising your blood pressure.
3. Address Issues When They Arise.
Like I said before, if you're packing your bags because your spouse left his beard hair in the sink for the fifteenth time, more than likely, your leaving has less to do with his shaving routine and more to do with much larger issues. In addition, what may be a problem to you may not be on your partner's radar and something they may not even be doing purposely. Sometimes taking time apart to cool down makes it that much easier to work through problems, but it can also be a form of procrastination if you're not careful. If you can discuss it calmly in the moment, don't wait to bring issues to your partner's attention.
4. Understand Tears Don't Solve Problems
They do however have a way of shelving the larger issue. When people are overwhelmed by emotion, it can often come out as tears or profanity, but if you're getting all misty-eyed as a means of manipulation, it's no longer about problem-solving. It's about winning or playing the victim. You're allowed to get emotional, but keep in mind that pulling out the Kleenex alone can't solve problems. Just like time, all they do is put the problem on hold.
5. Avoid Belittling and Name-calling
As tempting as it may be to tell my spouse, "He isn't s**t," or "F**k him and his entrepreneurial dreams," the fact is the low blows are unnecessary and furthermore, I don't believe them myself. During more challenging moments of conflict, it can be all too easy to get distracted by wanting to hurt your partner as they may have hurt you and totally forget about communicating and processing feelings. Focus on finding resolutions, not being crowned "The Queen Of Condescension."
6. Take Into Consideration the Example You’re Setting For Your Children
Parents often take consideration not to argue in front of their children, but honestly when it comes to learning conflict resolution, in many ways you're modeling the behavior you want them to one day display. We're all different people with diverse backgrounds and opinions, so conflict is inevitable. Think about the lessons you're teaching your children, particularly when it comes to communicating with the people they love. How can we tell them to not disrespect others in the world if we're setting the example to demean the very people they call family?
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