A drama queen changes her tune when she says "I do."
"Fine, then. We're done," I hissed, slamming the door as I bolted from my boyfriend's dilapidated Chicago apartment.
"Come back, honey!" he yelled. His number blinked on my cell phone as I climbed into my car. I chucked the phone into the back seat and drove without a destination. Hours later, I called and waited for him to apologize.
After eight years and two children, I can't remember what he did. I'm sure it was horrible—something like buying me chocolate for Valentine's Day (I hate candy and he knows it, so he must not understand me at all), or forgetting to ask about a big project I had going on at work (he must not care).
Raucous, dramatic fights like this—me yelling, threatening to end things, and disappearing while he waited for me to simmer down—raged weekly in our early relationship. But as guests in sport coats and tea length dresses cheered our first kiss as man and wife, I realized our fights would have to change. How could I threaten to leave him when I had promised to stay with him forever? How do you know he's serious about saying "it's over"?
By the end of our wedding day, I had already shushed my inner drama queen once—the first step toward learning how to fight like a wife. I kept my mouth shut when he unjustly insisted on paying the driver who showed up with a limo strewn with broken beer bottles. Why "Wife" Is A Dirty Word
It was easy to tell myself I would pick my battles—harder to actually do so. After the wedding, he quit his job so I could work as a newspaper reporter in Florida. While I worked, he filled out a handful of job applications, swam laps in the pool at our apartment complex and served ball after ball on the tennis court. He acquired a tan; I comparison-shopped for the least expensive spaghetti sauce to keep us out of debt.
At the end of a long day at work, I came home to find him lounging on the couch. Laundry had piled up in our bedroom; dishes streaked with crumbs littered the living room; the toilet was ringed with grime—and why couldn't he put his toothbrush in its holder rather than on the edge of the sink? I changed into comfier clothes, feeling the familiar anger bubbling.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said.
Erupting into a litany of complaints, I left the apartment. I raced down two flights of stairs then stopped to take a deep breath. I ought to go back, I thought. I hadn't asked him nicely to clean up; I'd just gone off like a tea kettle. But I couldn't quite reign myself in. Instead, I called up the stairs, "I'm upset... but I'll be back!"
"Lisa, sometimes I worry that you're really going to leave me," he confessed some years later after a lively fight.
This struck me as ridiculous; I knew in my heart I would never leave. I just needed space to cool off, so I could stop hurling insults long enough to solve the problem. Still, I didn't intend to make him feel insecure.
In the self-help section at Borders, expert tips advised me to fight fair. I was to stop accusing him, own up to my feelings and keep my goal in mind during the scrap. I should also stop yelling and hold my husband's hand while we grappled. Self-Help Your Way To Love
Really? Where was the fun in that?
By the time our first daughter was born, I no longer actually left the house in anger. I couldn't abandon the baby, and did I really want to ditch a man who came home early from work to play with his new daughter? A man who routinely offered me snacks and a magazine while I breastfed her?Me, My Husband And My Baby: Who Owns My Breasts?
Instead, I let it stew until she was tucked in and then threatened to leave him with our screaming pink infant for an hour ALL BY HIMSELF.
He surprised me by offering to do so anytime. A few weeks ago I left both our girls—now ages two and one—with their daddy for four days while I retreated to Chicago to visit friends. He never once called to complain.
It's not that we don't fight now that we have kids. If anything, we fight more. We're often exhausted, and I slowly deplete my reserves of patience during daily potty training debacles, tantrums and sibling sharing squabbles. By the time they're in bed, a dirty sock can set me off.
But we both know the game now: I'm battling my erratic emotions in an attempt to blow off steam; he's waiting for me to calm down so we can discuss our options.
So when he extends a bit of humor or a back massage as a peace offering, I usually take it and drop the quarrel.
Last week, we were in the midst of a familiar spat over working hours. He balked when one of my freelance projects siphoned our weekend family time; I complained that he worked longer than nine-to-five. Poll: Does Work Stress Affect Your Relationship?
He said: "I wish you were home more."
I said: "I can't believe you were 20 minutes late. It's like you don't even want to see your family any more!"
We meant the same thing.
"I hate fighting," he told me as things began to cool down.
"I kind of like it."
He laughed and leaned in to kiss me. I backed away and scowled but didn't resist when he reached for my hand as we opened the door to check on our sleeping daughters before we headed to bed.