In the Ring: Learning from Fights

Call them what you want: arguments, fights, disagreements, or United Nations Peacekeeping Summits, every couple has them. The fights may look different: some are filled with a quiet tension while others are loud and explosive. But put two people together and they will have different view and opinions. In our marriage, we’ve found that the trick to keeping these fights from getting too harsh and destructive often lies in examining the fight itself.

Our first major fight was over a new lawn mower. Yes, a lawn mower. How could this yard tool stir up such strife? Lawnmowers generally need an even number of wheels to function properly. Ours came with only three out of four. The simple Saturday afternoon chore proved to be not so simple. We spent the whole day running from store to store for wheels, tools, etc. By the end of the day, we were both furious with each other and could hardly be in the same room.

After everything settled down, we discussed why a three-wheeled-mower-dilemma caused a stormy day in our marriage. I learned quite a bit about my husband (and myself) from our discussion. My husband, Justin, is a very patient man. He definitely does not expect smooth sailing in all things. However, he usually has a plan in his head of how things should happen. When situations do not go according to plan, he can get discouraged. I, on the other hand, approach life with the attitude that anything is possible. I see a difficult situation as a personal challenge. Sometimes I even enjoy overcoming an obstacle or solving a problem that seemed impossible.

As the lawn mower situation grew more complicated, Justin grew discouraged and frustrated. I did not understand his feelings and, therefore, became irritated by his reaction.

In the days and weeks that followed we asked ourselves, “How can we avoid this in the future?” Stresses and frustrations, at some level, are unavoidable. That’s life. However, I did not need to exacerbate it by growing angry at the way in which my husband dealt with the situation. So I asked Justin, “What do you want me to do when you are frustrated? Can I leave the situation so that it does not escalate? Should I offer my help or just let you do it?” I will often ask these questions in the midst of a frustrating situation. To my surprise, Justin’s preferences can vary significantly. At times, he will ask me to leave him to the task. Other times he will tell me how I can help, or he will ask me to take a break with him and step away from the problem. The most important takeaway for me is that I cannot assume that I know exactly what he needs in every situation.

When I am stressed, I like to talk it through (a common female response). Justin has learned to ask me, “Do you want advice or do you just want me to listen?” Like Justin, my needs vary depending on the situation. One day I want his advice and the next I just want a listening ear.

We have also learned the value in stepping away. It is amazing how much a conflict can defuse after we take a little time to cool down. Rarely does an effective solution present itself in the heat of the moment. Give the other person some breathing room so that both parties can calm down. Justin often needs more time to process his thoughts than I do. Just because I come up with responses faster than he does, does not mean my thoughts are in any way better than his. After we have both had sufficient time, we come back together, apologize for any unkind words that were said, and discuss the problem calmly and with respect.

Take the time to learn from past fights and use this knowledge in future disagreements. Know what questions to ask and when to take a break. Hopefully, this will lead to more peaceful discussions (disputes/quarrels/summits) in the future.


Amy VanSlocum grew up in rural Alaska 100 miles from the nearest stop light, McDonald's and movie theater. She has lived in Michigan, Montana, New York and has finally settled in northern Colorado. She graduated from Calvin College in 2008 with a degree in elementary education and earned her graduate degree in library science. Amy and her husband, Justin, embarked on their latest adventure, parenthood, in the summer of 2014. In their spare time, the VanSlocum family heads to the mountains to hike or ski.

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