Move In Together, Fight-Free

Move In Together, Fight-Free

Wastebaskets, ladders, driving in Canada (in the pelting rain), the bathtub, parents, movies, music, health insurance, mortgages (theoretical), rent increases (real), whether I do or do not know the best way to roast a free-range chicken, and cardboard boxes. This is just a small sampling of things Jonathan and I have fought about since we decided to get married.

I can't think of a single significant fight from before we got engaged. But after our engagement (a word also defined as "a hostile encounter between military forces"), we promptly started butting heads. It was pretty much instantaneous. One of our favorite things to fight about were two 2x2x4 cardboard boxes in Jonathan's (now our) apartment. I moved in with him in August, and at first these two neatly sealed beauties were indistinguishable from all the other boxes and garbage bags and piles of crap I had sloppily moved with me from Brooklyn and strewn about the 600-square-foot studio apartment.

But bit by bit I found places to put all that crap, and cajoled Jonathan into parting with some college-era home furnishings to make a little more space, and painted the bathroom and hung some pictures and reorganized the kitchen. The outline of the place that we now call home began to emerge. Against that cleaner canvas, the boxes stood out once more. "When are we getting rid of these, again?" I asked him.

There was a story there, to which I had half-listened, the way one does when in pre-emptive, argument-winning mode: scanning for ammo; rehearsing a rebuttal. Their contents belonged to someone else, someone who lived somewhere in Indiana, and though Jonathan wanted to send them on their way, he could not, because he needed a shipping address, and the guy he wanted to ship them to, who was a musician—and you know how that goes—wasn’t responding to his emails. Or something.

All I really knew was that they did not belong to Jonathan, or to me, yet they were taking up space in our microscopic kitchen, and I wanted them gone.

I raised the topic a couple times a week, in various ways.

"Can I help you find a way to get these shipped?"

"Any news from the guy these boxes belong to?"

"Oof, my toe. When are these boxes getting out of here, again?"

"We are NOT a storage unit."

Periodically, it would hit me: Oh my God, I'm nagging. I'm not even married yet and I'm already a wife.

So then I'd force myself to be nonchalant about it for a while, and try to ignore the anxiety I'd feel whenever I'd look at the boxes, focusing instead on the things Jonathan was doing right as we patched our home lives together. But the anxiety was still there, brewing and stewing and gathering a wicked head of steam, and every so often, Old Furious would blow.

"If these aren't out of here by the time the girls come over for brunch next month, I am personally going to drag them down to the East River and throw them in!"

So now I was nagging and threatening.

Still, the boxes were unmoved.

And whether I was fighting with Jonathan about them, or some other matter, I began to experience something I've come to call "emotional compounding." (If I've stolen some psychologist's copyrighted phrase, sorry—unintentional.) I'd be upset about something and so I'd pick a fight (or would it pick me?), and then I'd get smacked with a wave of negative emotions about the fact that we were fighting. I usually don't shirk fights—I can see the value in fighting with people I love. If you don't fight from time to time, you probably don't care. (Or you're a doormat.) But these fights with Jonathan were (and, sometimes, still are) different. They made me scared: Oh no, there's something wrong with us. This never happened before, so why is it happening now, when we're supposed to be so happy about taking this big step together? Or frustrated: If we can't handle these little things now, when our lives are relatively uncomplicated, how will we ever handle them? Or sad: I guess this means that the "honeymoon" phase of our relationship is over. Mostly, I'd get angry at myself for letting the fight erupt in the first place: You're ruining what's supposed to be one of the most precious times of your life.

Many times I felt all those things at once.

I'm still guessing at why our fighting escalated. Have we taken the gloves off because we know the other person will be sticking around, and so now we feel freer to ask for, even do battle for, the things we need—not to mention reveal things and exhibit behaviors we were previously inclined to conceal? Are we blowing up issues that might have receded into the background before the engagement because we now know that whatever it is we're fighting about might be an issue for the rest of our lives—and that's a long time to put up with something? Certainly, the stakes are higher, and that's making us twitchier. And because we're living together for the first time, we're suddenly more susceptible to each other's moods, each of us more apt to let our own outlook be colored by the other's momentary (or longer) depression or frustration; more apt to get caught in a feedback loop that's tough to break. And, of course, when you've got a negative internal monologue going on, most forecasts look dark: What if this means we're not meant to be?

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But when I stop panicking and look around, I do see evidence of the engagement period being rough for other people, too. I remember what relationship guru Barry McCarthy said at the Smart Marriages conference about fighting early on being good for cementing your bond. (Though that's harder to believe when you're in the midst of it than when you're taking notes at a lecture!) I remember that scene in Father of the

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.