Our first married fight had all the usual elements of a tantrum: tears, yelling, overly dramatic accusations of fatal character flaws, and two people completely and irrevocably convinced of the moral superiority of their own positions.
We hadn’t been home from our honeymoon very long, and we were only beginning to learn what it meant to evolve from a dating couple to a married one. We were both still students, and our apartment just off campus allowed us to remain involved in all of the social activities and friendships we’d enjoyed throughout our college experience. In fact, many nights found Paul back in his old stomping grounds, hanging out at the guys’ dorms, drifting from room to room to shoot the breeze, mooch pizza, and play video games.
I didn’t have a problem with this, at first. I’d arrive home from a seven o’clock class, stir up some Ramen noodles for myself, watch a little TV, do my homework, and busy myself with the hundred wedding gift thank you notes I had left to write. But as one hour turned into two, then five, and midnight came and went with no word from the man who was supposed to be sliding into bed next to his brand new wife, mild irritation would turn to worry, worry would turn to anger, and anger would dissolve into tears as I started to imagine all the terrible fates that could have befallen him. Just about the time I was imagining what I would say to the police officer who came to give me the bad news that my young husband had been struck down by a gang of murderous bikers, in he would walk, smiling broadly and goofily unaware of the tempest of emotions roiling inside his hapless bride.
The first couple of times it happened, the relief of finding that he was okay eclipsed everything else, and the leftover bit of honeymoonish glow that still suffused our tiny apartment quickly swept away the anger I felt. Finally, though, things came to a head.
It was two in the morning on a weeknight. I had worried, I had wept, I had even called around to a couple of his friends’ rooms to find out if they had seen him–only my fear for his well-being overcoming my aversion to an act that, to me, had “naggy wife” written all over it. And, to be honest, I was embarrassed to admit that my girlish fantasy of true lovers wanting to spend “every moment together” was already riddled with holes, pierced by the reality of life with a flesh and blood man instead of a fairy tale hero. Paul had never stayed out so late without calling before, though, and I was sure that this time he was lying in a ditch somewhere, his life’s blood ebbing out in a dark and widening pool as he struggled to remember the license plate number of the long haul trucker who had run over him. When he finally walked through the door, he walked into a full-blown hurricane.
I won’t go into detail about what was said, mainly because the merciful fog of years has faded the memory a bit. Somewhere amidst all the hard words and tears and recriminations and hot defensiveness, we each managed to make our points. We were new at the whole arguing thing, so we might have wasted a few words and thrown a couple of low blows, but when the smoke cleared at last, we had reached an understanding. Paul promised to let me know where he was going and when he’d be home, and I promised not to call out the National Guard if he was a few minutes late.
One issue down, five thousand two hundred ninety-nine to go.
Icebreaker: Can you remember the very first argument you ever had as a married couple? What was it about?
1. Do you, as a couple, have any rules for “fighting fair”?
2. As individuals, we start learning our patterns of handling conflict when we’re children, from watching our parents fight. What habits, good or bad, do you think you’ve carried over from the way your parents argued with each other?
3. Many conflicts have their roots in unmet expectations. We each come to our marriages with certain presumptions about our partners and our relationships. Describe a time when you and your spouse encountered a difference in expectations. What did you do to resolve it?
4. Some relationships are characterized by a pursuer-withdrawer dynamic, that is, one partner is more likely to bring issues up for discussion, while the other tends to avoid these discussions or pull away during them. How does this play out in your marriage? What compromises can help a couple to break out of this pursue-withdraw pattern?
5. Every marriage seems to have one or two “hot button issues” that come up over and over and never get resolved. How do you handle these sensitive topics in your marriage? How important is it to reach a resolution on those issues?
6. What is one positive change you can make in the way you and your spouse deal with conflict?