The Argument for Arguing

importance of arguing in a relationship fighting love anger fair fight argue respect safe trust

I watched a lot of Little House on the Prairie growing up. I wanted Laura’s braids, I hated Nellie, and I thought Mary was just about the nicest person ever.There aren’t a ton of specific moments that stand out to me about the show now, but for some reason my childhood mind stuck on an episode where the mother, Caroline, tricked her husband, Charles, into arguing with her. The specifics are fuzzy, but I seem to remember her telling him that getting into fights could be healthy, but he thought it meant the marriage was faltering. The lesson I took away from it (is it okay to learn lessons from TV?) was that arguing isn’t always bad, and, in fact can be good for a relationship. Necessary, even.

Fast forward to today, adult me was scrolling through Facebook and an acquaintance had shared this image from a blog called Lessons Learned in Life on her timeline – the quote says, “When you find someone who can make you Laugh. Smile. Grow. Lust. Want. Crave. Feel. Love. Make you angry but happy. Keep that. That’s euphoria.”

Now, I have to explain that I don’t believe in soul mates for romantic partners and quotes like this usually cause me to roll my eyes. I think most of us could be happy with a number of people we come across, if we happen to meet them at the right time (both open to and ready for a new relationship) and are willing to put the work into being a couple. The idea of soul mates, to me, sounds too much like believing that “being together” should be easy because it’s written in the stars or otherwise fated. So calling lasting love euphoric feels overwrought and too focused on the early butterfly feelings – there is simply no way to maintain a euphoric feeling every single day of a relationship. Unless, perhaps, each person takes a lot of illegal mood altering drugs.

However, this quote with the unfortunate “Euphoria” add-on, the part about finding someone who can “make you angry but happy,” really struck me, much like the episode of Little House on the Prairie. Because it’s totally true – even though the sweet/neutral/ecstatic moments should heavily outweigh any drama/anger/tears, anyone you care for so much that they can make you happy most of the time, WILL make you angry sometimes, too, either on purpose or by accident or simply because of a misunderstanding. No one can get along all the time. NO ONE.

So you best be able to deal with it, folks.

During my marriage, one of the biggest issues we had is that every time I tried to approach my ex-husband about an issue, he’d shut down completely. Getting him to acknowledge that we needed to talk was about as easy as getting all of my kids out of the door without being at least 10 minutes late (let me translate that for you – it’s impossible). We didn’t argue except to argue about not arguing.

He’s incredibly passive-aggressive, ignores conflict at all costs and holds silent grudges for weeks or years, whereas I prefer to get my emotions out as I feel them and then move on. And because he wanted to keep things glossed over, whenever he was bothered by me, he kept it bottled inside instead of telling me. Just about every disagreement we ever had consisted of me trying to gently bring up an issue, followed by him completely ignoring me, or, worse, trying to tell me I had no right to be mad.

Let me tell you – we all have a right to our emotions. I’m not saying our emotions are always correct, or that we always display them appropriately, but we have a right to feel happy, excited, joyful, melancholy or hurt. If my ex said something that stung me, I was not wrong to be sad in response. That’s what happens with us humans, we feel.

My ex husband had a fear that if we argued, or if we were ever angry with one another, it meant we were headed for divorce, so he instead pretended the anger simply didn’t exist. I’d say that because anger was never acknowledged, because we never fully argued, we headed for divorce. Any sign of unhappiness I had with our relationship, no matter how small or repairable, was met with his Whatever Wall. Meaning, he said, “Whatever,” and walked away. Then the next time we spoke he’d act like nothing had ever happened and didn’t apologize. Which made me feel completely invisible.

I’ve been angry toward or felt hurt by every person I consider worth caring about in my life, and I’m sure I’ve pissed them off or irritated them a good time or two, as well. When there is an emotion as strong as love, when you spend so much time with the same person, you simply cannot maintain a neutral standing. At one extreme there will be moments when you have that super-thrilled, wow-you’re-the-most-awesome-person-EVER feeling and times when you can’t stand to listen to another word that comes out of his mouth, at least for the next 15 minutes. Fictionalized Ma Ingalls knew this. Wise gal.

If you love someone, whether romantically or not, it’s okay to have respectful disagreements, and there will probably be some disrespectful outbursts from you both that will require major apologies, too. You can’t make anyone happy 24 hours a day and you can’t completely avoid hurting them, either. Even the best of us make comments out of fear or insecurities, we all make mistakes. Arguing doesn’t have to mean shouting or spite, certainly should never mean physical pain or intimidation, and it doesn’t spell doom for the relationship, either. Learning to argue in a healthy, productive way comes not from certain catastrophe but from the trust that grows between two people over time, when they learn that they’re safe to speak honestly and know their partner will forgive them or say they’re sorry when it matters.

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Image used under creative commons license from Martha Soukup.

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2 thoughts on “The Argument for Arguing

  1. I think you’re absolutely right and oh, what irony that it was the non-arguing that helped pave the way for the divorce. Unfortunately his avoidance of conflict will follow him into any future relationships too.

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