My husband, Alvin, and I have been married so long that we no longer argue. What's the point when I can recite both parts in my head and eliminate the aggravation? Twenty-two years into our marriage, when we boil down an argument, the simmering essence remains the same: my tone of voice.
My dearly beloved fails to appreciate the self-discipline I muster to snarl, "Okay, fine." I choke back shrill replies to voice the right response, yet he remains unimpressed. What I tout as self-control, he regards as the source of our woes. He says my tone of voice poisons my words.
This logic launches me into defensive mode. Thus a silent argument is born.
These are the final moments of our typical argument:
Me: Words matter more than tone.
Him: Wrong. Your tone of voice says everything.
Me: Not true. I agreed with you.
Him: You didn't mean it.
Me: I said it though. That counts.
Him: How would you like it if I spoke to you in that sarcastic tone?
Me: That is not the point.
Him: It is the point.
(Cue the silent treatment.)
Over the years, I've come up with remedies to some pesky arguments. Here are a few.
Give Up and Win
Why argue when you'll reach the same impasse for the umpteenth time? Your husband may never comprehend the beauty of saving money by spending money. He accounts for every penny while you possess only a vague inkling of the checkbook balance.
On some points, we may never agree. So here's my rule—if he cares the most, he wins. If something matters more to me, I win. Confronted with a stalemate, let the other win. Drop the rope and the tug-of-war ends. Choose to lose.
Bickering Will Get You Nowhere
Has pestering your spouse with complaints achieved results? Nagging works no magic here. Despite my nudges, my husband's priorities differ from mine. For instance, he sees no reason to wash dishes right after dinner. This bugs me. I prefer to work before playing.
So what? When my husband volunteers to tidy up, he cleans according to his schedule. Why bicker over a personality trait? A spouse under attack will retreat … and then you'll be the one standing in the kitchen, picking crud off the forks with your fingernail. Choose peace.
Place the Blame?
Some of us keep score. I can tell you when I was wrong (April 12, 1988) and when he was wrong (let me check my spreadsheet). I excel at finding fault and assigning blame. Such skill might satisfy my inner score-keeper, but placing blame never results in marital intimacy. A husband clobbered with "just the facts" won't respond with a loving embrace. Who would?
Instead of tallying up points, defuse the situation with these words: "You could be right," or if you dare, "You're probably right." Get out the smelling salts if you utter, "You are right." Even if he was wrong, choose to forgive. Let grudges go.
The Silent Treatment
I grew up in a family where adults buried conflict. No one ever modeled for me how to respond to discord with mature love. I entered marriage utterly unskilled at resolving disagreements.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I drove to the train station to pick up his college buddy. My vague directions led us in circles. Finally, my husband grew exasperated. He hates to be lost and late. Aghast at his attitude, I pouted. Concerned his friend might observe our lack of marital bliss, my husband snapped at me: "Put on your happy face!"
Twenty-two years later I laugh, but at the time my husband's harsh words stabbed my heart like a dirty fork. I offered a grim smile, served with a side of the Silent Treatment.
I'd show him! My silence would break him. Sure enough, given time, he cracked and apologized for hurting my feelings. I wept, and we tucked that untidy incident behind us without resolution.
Employing the Silent Treatment is like closing the refrigerator door on a slimy, elderly cabbage. Just because you close the door doesn't mean the vegetable isn't rotten. The stench lingers until you remove the oozing cabbage. Get rid of the stinky source of trouble and live happily ever after. Or at least until next Tuesday. Choose to resolve differences.
He never throws away his empty microwave popcorn bag. I never put away my shoes. Except when he does tuck the bag into the trash and when I do kick my shoes into the closet. Does everyone have those arguments? The always-never argument? He never talks to me. He always forgets my birthday. She never wants to make love. She always leaves the gas tank empty.
Nothing is that simple. Only a robot is "always" or "never" correct. In those irritating moments, choose careful words. You don't always do the right thing, and he isn't always wrong. You'll never meet in the middle if you blockade the way with barricades of "always" and "never." Banish absolutes.
My husband vowed to grow old with me. (Unless I continue to use "that" tone of voice. Ha ha.) We plan to become stooped and gray-haired together, with many decades ahead. However, time with our kids is short.
Our sweet children argue. Lacking perspective, they fail to grasp the pointlessness. Why do they care who sits by the window? We all arrive at the same time.
Our 16-year-old twin boys disagree often. They've reached that peculiar all-knowing age; the perfect time to write a parenting book.
If I say, "Please do your homework," one of them answers, "Why? When will I ever need to know how to find the volume of a cylinder?" If I say, "Get up now and shower," they mumble in unison, "But it's his turn to shower first." If I say, "Pick up that wet towel," they respond in chorus, "It's not mine."
I loathe arguing, but the children insist. They fill my dance card with their dizzying waltzes of circular arguments. At the end of the day, I'm exhausted.
When I reconnect with my husband, I long for peace. After interacting with contrary children, time with my calm husband shimmers like an oasis. Why pick a fight with the man who trips over my shoes on a regular basis? I'd rather love him than bicker with him.
Occasions do pop up that frustrate me, of course. And when they do, now I just argue in my head.
Me: You haven't been home on time for more than a month!
Him: Work's been crazy.
Me: Well, I'm going crazy with the kids.
Him: You wanted to be a stay-at-home mother.
Me: Before I knew I'd never get a break!
Him: I'm doing the best I can.
Me: Yes, you are.
Him: What do you mean by that?
Him: Watch your tone.
Me: What tone?
Him: You know what tone.
Sometimes, a silent, one-woman argument isn't enough. We require a real discussion to solve problems and iron out differences. Usually, I cry and he's clear-headed, but we say what must be said.
Twenty-two years into my marriage, though, I know the difference between a smelly cabbage and my stinky attitude … and when I'm the odorous one, a conversation in my head works wonders.
Melodee Helms is a freelance writer. She has been married 22 years and has 4 children.