One of the best compliments my husband and I ever received was from friends who decided to get married based, in part, on our example. The four of us spent a lot of time together when they were dating and they saw us at our best and our worst. And it was our worst that clinched it for them. One evening, they told us, "You guys have shown us that it's possible to fight with someone you love."
Jim and I are known for our bickering. Our friends and family know that we argue about everything from how much garlic to put in the spaghetti sauce to the best way to pile leaves into a leaf bag. While all our petty arguing can be annoying to others, it's a big part of what makes our marriage work.
Before I met Jim, I dated a guy who brought out a nasty part of my personality, a part that enjoyed pushing people around. He was so passive that he let me make every decision. Eventually, I just got frustrated with him and pushed harder. That relationship taught me that I needed to marry a man who wouldn't let me tell him what to do, who would call me on my bossiness and stand up to my stubbornness.
So when Jim and I had our first argument after dating less than two weeks, I knew I'd met my match. He wasn't about to let me tell him what to do or accept all my sometimes illogical opinions as fact. Granted, there are plenty of times I wish he would roll over and let me have my way without a challenge, but deep down I know that our lay-it-out-there style of solving problems is right for us.
Most of our arguments are about little things. When it comes to major decisions, like buying a house or disciplining our kids, we almost always agree. But when it comes to the best way to load the dishwasher, we can't get through the conversation without a little bickering.
But our bickering has served a real purpose in our marriage. I'm not great at identifying and sharing my emotions. When I snap at Jim about something inconsequential, he knows something's up and treads lightly. He's learned that a few well-chosen questions about my day can diffuse whatever frustrations I'm feeling and bring my civil side back to the surface. In the same vein, I know that when Jim is short with me, it's because he's feeling stressed. If I read his signals, I can help him let go of whatever is bothering him and relax. Sometimes these little fights help us identify broader issues in our marriage that we might not see otherwise. Our bickering is a thermometer of how each of us, and our relationship, is doing.
In a weird way, our little arguments have also brought us closer. When we go for a few days of being snippy with each other, we eventually get a little sick of ourselves. When that happens, we tend to work together to break the pattern. Jim might take to donning his big rabbit-fur hat to diffuse a conversation that's growing tense (it's hard to be upset with a guy who looks like Elmer Fudd). We've even been known to sing our arguments to show tunes. (Try "There's no reason to be bossy; I'm just trying to cook!" sung to the tune of "There's No Business Like Show Business.")
The bottom line is that bickering is part of who we are as a couple. We are nothing if not honest with each other. I don't ever have to guess how Jim feels about something—he's sure to let me know. And I feel safe letting him see my less-than-pleasant side because I know he can handle it.
Now it's true that extensive fighting can tear apart a marriage. So we have to be careful we don't go too far and hurt each other's feelings. We have to watch ourselves so our "discussions" over little things don't escalate into major arguments. We have to make sure that our kids, families, and friends see more love between us than animosity. Most of all, we have to remember that we are committed to being together for the rest of our lives and that will take a lot of work.
Marriage is not for the faint-of-heart. When two strong-willed people like us try to build a life together, there's bound to be friction. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Carla Barnhill is the former editor of Christian Parenting Today. She and her family live in the suburbs of Chicago.
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