By Mark E. Smith
The major arguments that my wife and I have had, fortunately, have been few and far between. Neither of us is emotionally cut out for the type of drag-out fights that some couples routinely engage in. What we’ve learned from the major arguments we’ve had is that they left us both feeling sad and emotionally bruised – not a dynamic we wish in our marriage.
Among the reasons why our arguments were so emotionally bruising was much because of my behavior. I always ended up storming out the door with such a comment as, “You clearly married the wrong guy….”
My wife finally expressed during a nonconfrontational time that my “going to the end” during arguments scared and hurt her.
I laid on the couch one eve and questioned my own poor behavior. I did “go to the end” in hurtful ways. But, I didn’t mean to – it just happened. So, why did I do it?
I realized that rather than be in control of my emotions during those types of arguments, I was operating on emotional autopilot. See, when I was growing up, my parents routinely fought and the arguments always ended in one of them leaving, either temporarily, for long periods, or divorce (three marriages, in my mother’s case). It was scary and unsettling to me as a child, but worst of all, it ingrained in me that that’s how arguments work – that is, they go to the end.
I shared this realization with my wife and expressed that while I couldn’t promise perfection, should an argument arise, I would try my best to be aware of my response and not “go to the end.”
Fortunately for both of us and our marriage, I have stopped going to the end. What I’ve learned in this process, as I’ve done at several points throughout my adulthood, is that no matter our scars, we don’t have to live and operate on emotional autopilot. If our behavior is hurting ourselves and others, we can stop, assess, and grow. It’s really hard to do – I know, especially when behaviors, reactions, and emotions are so engrained in us. But, the rewards of having the introspection – and dare I say, courage – to question our own actions can be profoundly life changing.
When we were children, many of us were taught the key to fire safety: stop, drop, and roll. As adults, for our emotional health, maybe we need to establish a similar reaction: stop, assess, and grow.