We didn't work out a plan for what to do about the boxes right away, but we understood each other a lot better immediately, and quite powerfully. And when we got back home from that weekend, the sight of those boxes didn't make me grit my teeth anymore. I didn't begrudge them their cubic footage. Now there were two of us invested in making sure that they were safely delivered to the proper place, no matter how long it took.
And in the weird way that life takes care of things when you stop trying to control them, the boxes disappeared in a matter of weeks—not in time for the brunch, but sooner than I'd ever hoped to imagine they would. Jonathan got in touch with a guy in the Bloomington music scene, who, coincidentally, was having a festival at which this band was going to perform. The record hadn't been available for purchase in three years, but with our help a new shipment could arrive just in time to sell at the show. I printed the UPS labels myself, and stayed home from work that morning to wait for the pickup.
Now, we laugh about the boxes. It's remarkable: Because the resolution to the problem came when we both acted out of love and care for the other person, we feel really good about something we used to bicker about. It's a mark in the "win-win" column, a relationship success, and that's a confidence booster.
And guess what: Jennifer Patterson ended up in the same place. Eventually, the fighting that once freaked her out came to seem important, cathartic, bonding—in short, vital and good. One thing that's "nice about fighting during your first year of marriage," she told me, "is that you realize that your marriage isn't going to end because you don’t agree." And it helped her reach another wise conclusion: "I don’t think you can change your partner," Patterson continued. "I think you need a partner who's willing to change for you. I try to be in tune with Matt's needs, and if there's something in his life or in our marriage that he needs, I don't think that can go unanswered. But it took a lot of fighting for me to realize, 'Why am I defending this position so vehemently? Does it really matter? If it's this important to him, can I change?'"
Some experts, including my pal Barry McCarthy, actually count an "engagement year" as the first year of marriage, especially if you're living together. It kind of feels that way, at times—like we're already married. The nagging, the sulking, the fighting—they're all there, and for all our attempts to use our new skills to fight well, and to gainful ends, we still blow it from time to time. I know we always will. I suppose the goal is to keep more marks in the "win-win" column than the "win-lose" column—which, where a marriage is concerned, is probably the same as the "lose-lose" column.
But no matter the outcome, we two combatants share a prize: With every skirmish, we learn more and more about each other, get more and more intimate. The fighting is helping us become, as I realized the other day, with shock, then delight, a family.
Just like Jennifer and Matt, who, for the record, are still together, still happy, still sparring—and now raising an 11-month-old son, Max, who, Jennifer told me with a laugh, is providing all kinds of new things to fight about.