Marriage – The Longest Fight
My husband and I have been married for about 1,000 years, so I guess we had a lot of perspective to share when we were asked to be a couple mentor to two students in a study of intimate relationships. This was part of their work in the most popular class at Northwestern University: Marriage 101.
The class, taught by Alexandra Solomon, therapist and author of the best-selling relationship book, Loving Bravely, is all about the research and theory of love, sex and intimacy.
Solomon assigns the students a mentor couple to help them chronicle their learning in action. The interview process between students and mentor helps them mature and grow their communication and collaboration skills, as well.
Before the interview we were provided a questionnaire about every aspect of our relationship. The questions ranged from how we met to our wedding night to how we fight. We were to provide all the details of our relationship in a two-hour video call with the two students.
As we discussed the intimate details of our marriage with the students, I was reminded of all the milestones that made us love each other and decide to connect our lives.
But I also remembered how different we were — and are — to this day. I like theater, he likes … well, not theater. I like classical music, he likes the Grateful Dead. I like fashion, he prefers sweatpants, all the time.
But somehow, improbably and inexplicably, we love each other. We have to love each other a lot to overcome how much we love to argue. We even argue about how much we argue.
When asked about how we argue, the husband actually said he doesn’t; it's just that I provoke him. I almost hung up the call right then and there.
I will admit, it doesn’t help that he married a former litigator from Staten Island. I was born arguing. But over the years he has learned how to join in fully when it comes to making sure his point of view is “heard.”
Trust me, you can hear him all the way down the block. Of course, whenever I speak with any sort of emotion, the husband tells me I’m yelling. I tell him it's not yelling — that's just my voice.
But somehow, we always get over our arguments. When I’m done, I’m done. Time to move on.
The best advice my husband has never taken is when one of his friend’s asked him: “Do you want to be right or happy?” I affectionately call the husband the “pit bull of resentment” because he loves to hold onto conflict well after it’s been seemingly resolved (he may hate to yell, but he loves to remember).
It turns out we're doing something right when it comes to fighting. Solomon teaches that it’s not whether or not you have conflict that matters. “It’s how you do conflict that is vitally important,” she says. “If both people work harder at understanding than being understood, then conflict becomes a gateway to deeper connection.”
And that’s what I discovered during our two-hour interview. I was reminded how much I loved falling in love with this man and the deep connection we have from 37 years of laughter, tears and just life.
Even with all the many “passionate” disagreements we’ve had over the years, taking stock with these students who were learning about long-term relationships through us reminded me of what I already knew. The real secret to resolving conflict and the longevity of our marriage is this: We actually love each other. A lot.
As first published in the Democrat + Chronicle and on the USA Today Network