When it Comes to Marriage, What's Your Signature Fight?by Risa Green
My husband and I have been together since 1993. If you’re not so good at math, that’s coming up on 20 years. Or, to put it another way, it’s officially half of my life. We met in college, and he was supposed to be a senior year fling, nothing serious, just a little fun before I moved away, went to law school and started my life for real. Sometimes, I think it’s pretty amazing that we’re still together, given the lack of serious thought I put into dating him. I mean, if I had met him when were older and had to consider whether he was marriage material or not on the first date, I probably would have passed based on his musical preferences alone. But here we are, amazingly, still in love.
A lot has changed in twenty years. We have kids, a dog, a mortgage. When we met, I was burning to become a lawyer, and he was obsessed with producing movies. We both ended up on completely different paths. Along the way, our dreams have changed, our taste has changed, the kinds of vacations we like have changed. But one thing has remained a constant, always. One thing has never wavered: we still fight about exactly the same thing.
It seems to me that most couples have one thing they fight about over and over again, like a recurring dream. No matter how many times you argue about it, no matter how sick you may be of having the same argument, no matter how many times you swear that you will try harder, that you will not fight about this anymore, no matter what, the fight always finds a way to suck you in, and you find yourself yelling the same words you’ve yelled a thousand times before, like you’re stuck in an angry version of Groundhog Day.
Our fight is about the tone of voice I use when I am frustrated, or annoyed. For example, DH will ask me a question, which I will then answer, pleasantly. A minute later, DH will ask the same question. I will usually answer pleasantly again, unless I am getting my period. The third time he asks, PMS or not, I am usually annoyed that he has not listened to me the first two times, so I might, perhaps, have a slight edge to my tone when I ask why he didn’t listen to me the first two times. At which point he will, predictably, say, "that doesn’t mean you have to yell at me." And I will say, "that wasn’t yelling. I didn’t even raise my voice." And he will say, "it is yelling, and it’s unacceptable." And I will say, "no, it’s not yelling. It’s being human and humans have feelings and one of those feelings is annoyance when they’re not being listened to, so I was just expressing my feeling of annoyance." And he will say, "oh, so I annoy you?" And I will say, "yes, you do when you don’t listen to me." And he will say, "I don’t care if I annoy you, it’s unacceptable for you to yell at me." And I will then yell, "this is so f-ing stupid, why can’t you just let things roll of your back? Why can’t you just let me have my two seconds of annoyance and let it go? Why does it have to be a fight every time?" And he will say, "you just yelled at me again." And I will yell, "yes! Yes, I did! Because now I’m angry, and when people are angry they yell!" I swear, if the whole thing wasn’t so annoying it would make an amazing comedy routine.
Most of my friends have a similar kind of fight that they constantly engage in with their husbands. It’s a different subject matter for them, yes, but the frequency and the I-have-had-this-fight-so-many-times-I-could-do-it-in-my-sleep quality is the same. It’s not serious enough to be divorce-inducing, and it’s not angry enough to be makeup-sex inducing. It’s just run of the mill, low-level marriage kind of stuff, like putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher because he always leaves them in the sink. I have learned in therapy how to avoid engaging in this fight, but yet, I still engage it every time.
Honestly, if we were to ever stop having this fight, I think I’d be afraid; afraid that we’d be leaving time and space open for other, scarier kinds of fights that we wouldn’t recover from quite so quickly. At this point, even though I know our fight isn’t good for us, there’s almost something comforting about it, like mac and cheese. After all, I have been doing it for half of my life.