Ah yes, the occasional squabble between husband and wife over some issue so unimportant it’s too embarrassing to admit, as in “You left the light on in the kitchen” or “Why didn’t you pick up the mail when I asked you to?” In reply, I have two options.
Option one: “So I forgot… “followed by a pugnacious “What’s the big deal?” (Dumb! Don’t even think it! Pandora’s Box will open wide!).
Option two: “Sorry, hon, I wasn’t thinking…” followed by “My bad, I’ll do it now.” (Smart! Realize wife worked all day. Quickly conclude a smidgeon of humble pie is zillion times preferable to pie thrown in face).
Life is short, my friend! And I have learned time and time again that taking a stand over a petty issue is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Who needs a hollow victory that is non-consequential in the long run and leads to a dismal, lonely victory lap and a stretch on the cold side of the bed!
It has taken me a long time to recognize the sequence: being right leads to feeling smugly righteous leads to being alone in a corner of the den proclaiming your piety and rectitude to the cat. Too many times in my life I’ve settled arguments with “My way or the highway” and found myself on the road to Supai, Arizona, one of only two places in the US that still receives its mail by mule.
In the past when a colleague erred, I was prone to point it out in no uncertain terms. Gleefully I saw their mistakes as opportunities to position myself as being better than them. Hardly a path to popularity; being intolerant of the mistakes of your co-workers and shaming them openly will not make you popular. To the contrary, it can sabotage a career – namely mine!
I shrink in discomfort when I think back on my management style. A copywriter or art director would show me a layout that I felt needed improvement. “Hey dumbbell, here’s what you did wrong,” would be my response.
What puzzled me afterward was the failure of the person to follow-through and make the corrections, even after my elaborate instructions on how to do it right. Why didn’t they do what I said, I wondered? Of course, four decades later I realize the only words heard were “Hey, dumbbell,” followed by a muttered that son of a bitch called me a (substitute actual word here).
Co-worker or conjugal partner, I’ve learned if I view disagreements as competitions with a winner and loser as the outcome, I run the risk of losing more than the argument. Our relationship can be harmed; particularly if the relationship is ongoing, as in husband and wife. It’s a lot more comfortable when the outcome works for both sides of the quarrel, particularly after Arlene turns off the bedroom light.
Understand, I’m not talking about compromise. I’m pitching surrender before the battle is fought. After years of ego-driven, childish struggles to be king of the hill, I could care less about stoutly defending myself over a nit-pick. My manhood, self-esteem and testosterone count are indifferent to battle cries that I recognize arise from too little sleep, too many difficult clients and not enough time at the beach.
It’s a secret weapon. Because when there is a point of view I believe in strongly with principles at stake and integrity on the line, my wife recognizes the issue is important to me. She responds accordingly and we have a respectful give and take rather than a high decimal quarrel.
Another plus from the Milquetoast “Yes, dear” approach is that it works both ways. When I growl like a wounded bear because the porridge is late to the table, Arlene gives me a pass, knowing my mood has nothing to do with her; so the bait is untouched, and a nonsensical spat avoided.
After almost three decades of marriage we’ve come to recognize that an argument about “nothing” is really about an issue between us that hasn’t been resolved.
“Isn’t that right, honey?”