Monday, February 4, 2008

Shouting in a Whisper

Listening to: Steve Irwin prattle
Mood: Calm

Hubby and I took the kids to visit his sister and her family last weekend. They went to India for a month, so my 4 year old had been craving some time with her favorite (and indeed, only) cousins. The weekend was nice, but a bit stressful. My youngest had colic one of the days, and 2 adults sharing a double bed with a 4 year old means not much sleep for anyone. While we were relaxing on Sunday morning, my sister in law and her husband started bickering in the kitchen while they were making lunch. Nothing too important, it was mostly about a comment her husband’s brother had made while they were in India. The argument quickly deteriorated into a personal issue. No one was shouting, it was all said in a very civil, quiet manner. Unfortunately, my husband and I were sitting in the next room and couldn’t help but hear the conversation. They live in an apartment and there really isn’t much privacy anywhere. It was more than a little awkward for us. We ended up turning on some music so we wouldn’t have to listen to them and give a modicum of privacy for them to work out a truce. I don't mean to rag on my sister in law at all. All married couples have hot issues that they argue about. My problem was that it was embarrasing to listen to.

I know it’s just me, but I find it much more unnerving when people argue in a quiet, civil manner, but their words are heated. Especially in front of other people. In my house, we were taught that you never, ever, air your dirty laundry in front of anyone outside your immediate family. My husband, on the other hand, was raised in India. Working out your differences in front of family is not only okay, family can include anyone from your parents to your 5th or so cousins, as long as you aren’t shouting. My parent’s never got caught yelling at each other, even in front of my brother and me. I’m not sure if they even did yell at each other after I got old enough to notice. A lot of sarcasm and spoken arguments, but no yelling.

My history, along with this particular incident, lead me to start thinking about marriage and how and when married people argue. My parents divorced when I was 13. It was a ridiculously painful and unnecessary situation for me. My husband’s parents are still together, but that’s the way of their generation in India. You just don’t get divorced without an earth shattering reason. As a result of my parent’s fighting style, I feel that I didn’t learn how to disagree with another adult, let alone a spouse, in a constructive manner. In fact, I actually get a panicky feeling when I hear people arguing quietly.

When I got married, this was one of my biggest concerns – that my husband and I would not find a way to disagree without either screaming at each other, being passive aggressive, or ignoring issues until they get break us apart. I’m sure pretty much everyone can agree that how a couple argues determines whether or not they will be able to stay together. In American, most of us have little to no pressure to make an unhappy marriage work. We even have the concept of “starter marriages.” After going through my parent’s divorce, I was determined that I would make a wise choice of who to marry and then make damn sure I tried my best to make it last. My husband is old school and doesn’t believe in frivolous divorce, so we’re pretty well matched in that respect.

So how is the best way to argue? I found myself really pondering this question. I don’t think it’s a simple, flip answer that works for everyone, like the ones you read in magazines. My husband and I don’t really fight much. We’re both pretty easy going people. We try and avoid arguments that aren’t really that important to us as a couple, like what’s for dinner. I can definitely identify behaviors that I don’t want, but I have a really hard time identifying what methods I do want when we disagree. My husband and I will have been married for 5 years in April. We’ve pretty much hammered out a method for disagreement that works for us. Whether or not it will work for us in the long run and help us stay together is yet to be seen. How do you argue? Does it work?


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