What a cruddy day. Lauren and I are mad at each other. Neither of us really knows why. It might have started in bed last night with her offhand remark, which I took the wrong way—or with my selfish, passive-aggressive response this morning. Then there was a quick exchange of angry words in the church parking lot—car doors slammed a little too hard—and now, silence a few hours old that neither of us feels much like breaking. It's just easier to go to our separate corners of the house and get busy with something, avoiding anything close to a confrontation.
I'm not sure either of us could tell you what this is really about. I think it's just a bunch of little things we've let simmer this week and now the pot is bubbling over. The weather stinks, too—33 degrees and sleeting, after it was 90 degrees three days ago. So there was already sort of a dark, ugly mood about this day. It's a good day to be mad. Pick a reason.
We're both terrible at resolving these dumb little fights quickly. We clam up rather than tell each other how we really feel. All of that marriage advice in the books on the shelf suddenly doesn't seem so realistic. I'll bet most of those couples have dumb fights sometimes, too. And I'll bet they don't always resolve them immediately by gazing soulfully into each other's eyes, speaking exactly what's on their minds, accepting what they hear, apologizing, embracing, and finally making long, passionate love in a bedroom full of throw pillows, flowers, and candles.
Sorry, but today's not a candles kind of day in our house. And mentioning the words throw and pillows in the same sentence would not produce positive results.
Sometimes, as husband and wife, you just get sick of each other. Thankfully, for Lauren and me those times are short and rare. Usually we're inseparable, a team in every way, facing the endless tasks of parenting three kids, running a household, managing a career. We pray together almost every morning and embrace each other morning and night. We're always looking to sneak a quiet walk, a long kiss, or an evening when we can go upstairs early and close the bedroom door. Those are the days worth writing about.
But we can't deny that days like today are part of our marriage, too. And today, we most definitely are sick of each other.
Or are we? Even as I write this, my stormy mood is starting to clear. I'd really like to embrace my wife and tell her how stupid I was to let this go on. Funny, though. In a few minutes, when she comes up the stairs and into the room, I'll close up. So will she. There will be this awkward silence, both of us knowing we should talk this out but neither quite ready. She'll finally leave the room and I'll wish I'd said something. This may have to happen two, three, four times before one of us makes the bold move of uttering a complete sentence that has something to do with why we're not talking.
The Bible says don't let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil. Good advice, of course—even for the argumentatively challenged couple. When we fight, we do almost always end up having a really good talk, late in the evening—and wonder why we didn't talk six hours earlier.
But maybe those hours tell us more about who we are as husband and wife than if we'd simply made up right away. We can have days like this once in a while, all within the security fence of knowing our marriage isn't at stake. We're pretty good at fighting fairly—especially not saying things that will keep hurting after this fight ends. Much as we hate to admit it, I suppose we both have our "10 Things I Hate About You" lists, developed subconsciously and that only come to mind at times like this. We never voice those lists, at least not in that form, and soon their nastiness slips back out of consciousness, where it belongs.
When divorce is never even the tiniest of options, you get pretty good at working out little things before they become big things. Even if something does become big—and we've had a couple of big ones in the past year—we can be upset with each other for a day or two and yet know this will pass with time, talk, and prayer. The person I'm angry with today will be the same person with whom I'll be madly in love again tomorrow. And then we might be angry with each other all over again a month from now, over something completely different.
On our dining room wall, we keep a framed copy of the marriage vows we wrote to each other 17 years ago. On a day like this, I'll wander in there and read them—just as a reminder of what we promised each other back when we knew so little about life, marriage, and what it really means to give yourself permanently to someone.
"In every circumstance, good or bad, I will love you, trust you, pray for you, stand by you, and support you, from this day until the Lord returns or parts us to take us home."
Those promises were so easy to say then, with the kind of blind enthusiasm all newlyweds should get to keep for a while. They sounded so perfect. They even made some of the older couples at our wedding cry.
Today, I read the same words with eyes wide open. I know better what they mean now: that "every circumstance" means exactly that—that it's difficult to pray for each other when you're angry at each other, but you do it anyway; that we have no idea how many more days or years God will give us together, but that each one needs to be cherished.
And you know what? Those promises are still easy to make. I'm married to someone who knows me and understands me better than anyone else—and who knows the kind of commitment required to make a marriage work. She's married to someone like that, too.
Tonight, after another false start or two, we'll work out this stupid fight about … what was it about? We'll talk for a while, hold each other tightly, and probably pray together. And we'll both realize we love each other more than ever. So maybe this won't turn out to have been such a cruddy day after all.
We may even pull out the throw pillows and candles.
Jim Killam, an MP regular contributor, teaches journalism at Northern Illinois University.
2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.