Just like the how-to-list on How to Have a Miscarriage – The Practical Way, this is a how-to-list I never thought I’d actually have to learn, let alone know enough about to write about.
My husband and I have been together for nearly 14 years, married for nearly 4, experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss for nearly 2. Up until 2 years ago we rarely argued / fought. We generally saw eye to eye. Yes, we did disagree, but always respectfully. And in hindsight, always over the most trivial and silly things like who should empty the dishwasher more frequently or which pub we should go to on a Friday night. We never went to bed mad at each other. I don’t mean to paint a fairy-tale like picture, because that’s definitely not the case – we have had bad days, and difficult times – deaths in our extended family, cars breaking down, academic stress, etc., but we have gone through them together. And, rather than having large emotionally charged arguments, we had disagreements that would be better classified as constructive conversations and debates, rather then arguments.
Nothing was so big that I ever thought it could break us.
Now, through some very highly emotional and highly hormonal situation, we have found ourselves entering into uncharted territory – large arguments where I usually break down in tears and he get really frustrated. Having never had any serious arguments, I can now say that we’ve had 2 very unpleasant arguments – as a direct result of recurrent pregnancy loss and the resulting stress. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the actual arguments were over, and I don’t even care, because what we’ve learned is they were purely the result of being over tired; incredibly stressed; frustrated at our situation; and, grieving the loss of our babies and potentially our family dream. But, really, even through these arguments, we have never been frustrated or angry at the other person. We simply have been hurting and lashed out at the other person for no reason other than they were there.
We both recognize that we are not frustrated at each other, although in the moment it came out that way.
What we’ve decided, is that we are either in this together, or not. We can either choose to turn to each other for comfort or we can turn against each other which may result in us finding comfort outside of our marriage. The second alternative, simply isn’t an option for us, we love each other and we are committed to each other and our family, whatever that turn into. For us, it really is this black and white. It really is this simple.
So, through these 2 arguments, we have learned is that arguing isn’t a bad thing. We can argue, we can disagree, but we have to do it appropriately. We do not have to agree all the time (and I can guarantee as two fiercely opinionated people we definitely won’t always agree), but we just have to do so respectfully and honestly.
Here are our 11 tried and tested techniques for how to have an argument and stay married:
- Talk early and talk often. Communicate before it turns ugly and resentment develops. Talk before the issue boils over. Talk about the little things that are on your mind so that they don’t turn into big things. Even if the topic isn’t fun, and the conversation is hard, talk about it.
- Do not refuse to fight. It was recommended that we simply refuse to fight – if one of us wants to disagree in a heated way, the other one should walk away. We found, this is the worst possible thing we can do. We have both tried refusing to argue by saying so and walking away. Turns out, it really pisses off the other person and then, whatever we were disagreeing over is now irrelevant, but the emotion is not and the anger grows. So, although psychologists may like this one, for us it simply doesn’t work. Rather it actually makes everything substantially worse.
- Paraphrase back to each other. Often in an argument, we are so busy thinking about our next statement to prove the other person wrong, that we don’t actually listen. Paraphrasing forces the other person to listen. It also forces the other person to ensure they actually understand the other one’s point of view.
- Take a deep breath and count to 10. There is probably some sort of physiological reason to take a deep breath and count to 10, but since I’m not a doctor, I can only share why we find it works. The deep breath while counting to 10, helps us think through our next comment, so that instead of lashing out emotionally, we are able to say what we actually want to say. It forces us to be reflective and not reactive.
- Talk slow and at an even pace. This is a trick I’ve learned through years of conflict resolution, and it can work. By forcing yourself to talk slower than normal, it reduces anxiety.
- Do not raise your voice. This can be very hard to do, but it works. By refusing to raise your voice, even if the other person does, it does not escalate the argument into an all-out screaming match and eventually the other person will calm down into a more normal tone once they realize getting angry won’t help.
- Talk in the car. This is one of my favourite places to have a difficult conversation. It forces you to talk about it because there is no out. I find we never raise our voices when we are in the car (I have no idea why, but I suspect it might have to do with the desire to drive safely). This strategy is even better if you are going for a long drive (as we often do as Canadians) because then you are forced to hash it out.
- Leave the past in the past. Focus on the topic of the discussion and don’t bring up past arguments or past things that hurt years ago just to add fuel to the fire. Bringing in past issues and baggage, makes the argument larger then it needs to be and raises emotions. Focus. Discuss and debate the real issue at hand.
- Agree to disagree. We have learned to agree to disagree. We do not always have to agree on things right away. Sometimes we like to discuss potential things, things that don’t matter right now, so when/if the situation arises, deal with it then. And, agree that until you are actually faced with the problem, it doesn’t need to be solved.
- Reward an argument well done. Because we recognize arguing well is hard to do, we will reward ourselves for having a good argument. This could be as simple as snuggling on the couch, or running to Dairy Queen for a blizzard, or make-up sex. What we’ve learned is that there are many simple things that we both enjoy that we can enjoy together after an argument.
- Call the other one out on arguing poorly. We are not perfect, from time to time, we struggle to execute items 1 through 10. So, when this happens, we are allowed to call the other one out for it, in a respectful way. A simple statement, like, “take a deep breath and try to calm down so we can discuss this rationally”, can do a long way to helping have a constructive disagreement.
We’ve discovered that each one of us is better at different techniques on the list. For example, I love to talk, so I always gravitate to this one. Whereas my husband is better at recognizing when we should agree to disagree. But, we are both committed to working on these techniques because we are committed to each other and we plan to be together until death do us part whether or not we have children. We plan to fix what is broken, rather then just throw it out because we love each other, and that means more to us then anything else.
What we have learned is that it is important to find strategies to defuse the emotional nature of the argument. By removing, or at least reducing, the emotional driver of an argument, we are better equipped to return to a constructive conversation about our disagreements. The disagreement then stays respectful and helps us find a common ground. And, most importantly, because we are both buying into these techniques, we are working to ensure that we can continue to mean it when we say I Love You.
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I like everything fitting very nicely into perfect little boxes. Everything has a place, and belongs in its place.
This is both a literal and figurative analogy in my life, which I first discussed in a post last week – Accepting a Messy Life. Literally, every physical item has a place in my house. Figuratively, everything has a place in my brain and logic always dictates my decisions.
From a physical perspective, I am not saying my house is perfectly clean and organized, but I would venture the guess, that my house is more organized then 90% of other homes with the exception of 2 spaces – my husband’s home office and the garage. I am not responsible for either of these spaces, and for the most part I accept that it is not my place to clean and organize his office (although, when he asks for help, I’m right in there with my label maker and a smile, kind of like a giddy kid in a candy store). However, the spaces I am responsible for are incredibly organized. You can even walk into my basement and see an extremely organized storage room and my bookshelf (oh, how I love my books and bookshelf), it may appear unorganized at first glance. But that is intentional, and if you look closely, you will realize that each little cubby, contains like genres stacked behind the first row, sometimes 3 rows deep. The leaning books, have been arranged to lean to add variation to an otherwise overwhelming shelf. The few non-book cubbies have been arranged to appear chaotic, but rather each one has been strategically placed to reduce the overwhelming repetition of books. My bookshelf is controlled chaos.
I completely acknowledge that I’m neurotic when it comes to organization. And I share how organized my house is, because it’s the best analogy I can think of to share how organized my mind is. Things and thoughts often twirl around up there in my brain, but, at the end of the day my thought processes and decisions are governed by the logic I assign to each unique situation. Rarely, if ever, do I make a decision based on anything other than fact and logic, which of course means I greatly struggle in highly emotional situations because in these circumstances I cannot assign logic in a typical way. Decisions become much harder for me.
So, when I was challenged to accept a messy life due to our failed pregnancies, I realized that for me, this is probably more about accepting a messy mental life beyond just accepting our babies and our miscarriages as creating messiness in our lives. This is bigger. This is about my entire outlook on life and my attempts to live a perfect life. (Maybe, just maybe, this whole RPL experience will force me to learn a bit more about myself and grow in ways I never anticipated or expected).
Part of living messy means that I need to:
Accept that I cannot control everything.
Accept that not everything can fit nicely into one of my little boxes and/or categories.
Accept that things will not always go to plan, no matter how much I try to force the execution of said plan.
Accept that not every single day will be perfect.
Accept that there will be bumps in the road and I don’t always have to smile through them, I just have to get through them.
Again, acceptance is not always easy. But, part of living messy is accepting just that. Knowing that I may feel at peace with everything one day, but I may not the next. And understanding that this uncertainty is okay, and may even eventually become a blessing if I let it.
Clearly, I don’t want a messy life, in fact I have done everything in my power since the age of 14 to ensure that I am living an organized and logical life – I do things to appear perfect to the outside world, even if I am struggling through it. Heck, I cannot even have a mental breakdown without trying to control it and make it appear perfect to the world. So, why should I accept this messy approach to my life now?
I’m told, I should accept messy because life is messy. Life doesn’t always go to plan, not everything fits into perfect order, not everything has a box, and not every box can slide nicely onto a shelf.
But, I want it to and I have a tendency to make everything fit into nice boxes with pretty little labels (or rather, in my case, I fit everything into Tupperware containers because what if our basement ever floods?)
I of all people should understand that life doesn’t always go as planned – my mom and sister died much too young, we’ve lost 5 babies through miscarriages. But, I know for me, accepting messy is not going to come easily.
So, as I actively work to accept our undefined future, I am also working to accept that I cannot assign logic to the situation.
This is a follow up post to one that I posted last week. Click here to see the original: Accepting a Messy Life
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