My husband and I will celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary this April. Before we were married, we lived together in a tiny apartment for another two years. That’s fourteen years of being ‘up in each other’s bidnezz’ as they say on the streets. Quite a long time to spend being forced to share bathroom sink space and remote control possession. Boundaries are pushed to the limit and arguments happen. To survive (and because we love each other dearly), we’ve managed to learn each other’s habits and quirks well enough to know when to draw the line in the sand, and when to toss the damned stick aside and run like hell in the other direction. Most of the time, arguing is simply not worth it. We’ve learned to carefully tiptoe around the little piles of poop minefield, because really, we’re much too old and tired now to want to risk stepping in it. And once it hits the fan, well, the clean up is a bitch.
Sometimes no matter what the situation, I can get testy. The kind of testy that happens when you poke a sharp stick at a sleeping bear. It may or may not have to do with hormones, but I will let you in on this secret–mysteriously enough, it intensifies once a month. I’ll feel this gnawing ball of aggravation in the pit of my stomach that seems to have struck out of the clear blue sky. It’s not about anything specifically. It could be about anything, everything or nothing–most likely all three at once. Confused? That makes two of us. And this sudden black storm cloud of emotion churns and grows, finally blowing into a gigantic eruption of anger, which honestly, I have no control over. I am as surprised at my outburst of irritation as my husband. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Once the volcano starts, it just can’t be stopped. “Thar she blows! Run for your life!”
My husband is a good man. He’s smart, funny, loving. But he doesn’t know how to argue with me. We’ve had, on average, approximately one doozie of an argument every five years or so. We get it out of our system and settle back into the comfy trappings of marriage. It’s the little squabbles though, the ones about the endless laundry and errands–those are the ones he has trouble with to this day.
Most of the time, he doesn’t realize we were arguing. In fact, I’ve noticed that during the argument, he seems astounded as to what’s happening and therefore doesn’t know how to react. Even worse, he has no tools to help him cope with the inevitable fallout once I notice that after all my ranting and raving, he is still standing there like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming souped up mack truck filled with crazed hunters packing Uzis.
So men, I want to give you a few tips to help you through any argument–real or imagined. (First tip: they are all real to us.)
These tips might help you prevent an argument from even starting in the first place. We really don’t want to have to run you over like a Mack truck. But you make it so damn easy.
Let’s look at the anatomy of what starts out as an innocent ‘discussion’, shall we?
Scene: A married couple are in the kitchen after a long day at work. The woman is running around in circles attempting to make a dent in the disaster that is their home. The man is leaning on the counter, reading the newspaper, and eating chips and salsa over the sink.
Woman: Ugh! What the–? The dishes are clean?
Woman: The dishes!
Woman: Why are they still in the dishwasher?
Woman: I said, the DISHES! (Woman points at the dishwasher)
Man: What? (Man scoops up another salsa-laden chip and crams it in his mouth)
Woman: I thought they were dirty! But they’re clean and now I put the dirty dishes in and all the gross spaghetti sauce from the dinner I slaved over last night that you failed to help me clean up AGAIN spilled all over the clean glasses that YOU failed to empty AGAIN and why didn’t you empty them? Huh? Do I have to do everything? You just don’t CARE do you? No! If it wasn’t for me, this entire house would crumble around us! I have so many things to do all day and deal with the kids and my mother and the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning and then I come home and you don’t care that the dishes have to be cleaned again and why are you still standing there eating chips?! God! You’re dripping salsa all over the place! God! You drive me crazy! I am NOT cleaning THAT up! Oh, no! You’ve got another thing comin’ if you think I’ll clean up your mess! You can do it! And you know what else? YOU can reclean the dishes in the dishwasher! Yeah! How ’bout that, huh? I’m not the only one who’s tired, y’know? A little help from you would be nice, y’know? Give me those damn chips!
(Woman yanks chip bag out of the man’s hands)
Man: What? I don’t know what you want me to do! You took my chips! I…uh….why are you getting so mad? Why? What did I do?
Woman: AHHHHHHHH! God!
(Woman crumples the chip bag and throws it onto the counter. Salsa and chips scatter everywhere. Man’s mouth drops open.)
Okay. The first thing you may notice is the man had four golden opportunities to turn things around right from the start. Four chances to prevent a chip and salsa disaster. Instead, his responses just heightened the woman’s irritation, causing it to snowball into Armageddon within mere nanoseconds. Here’s what you need to do instead:
Rule No. 1: Pay attention. Focus. Figure out what she’s saying to you, immediately. Act like your life depends on it. You can tell by the tone of her voice how close she is to cracking. When you hear that voice, drop the chips, drop the salsa, drop everything.
Rule No. 2: Never act bewildered. Even if you don’t know what she’s talking about, just pretend you do. Nod your head. Empathize. Agree. You need to let her know you are on her side. And again, put the chips down.
Rule No. 3: Never answer in one word sentences. Never answer with another question.
Rule No. 4: Never stand there shoveling chips and salsa into your mouth while her life is spinning out of control right in front of you.
Rule No. 5: Never act like her meltdown is unfair. It may very well be blown out of proportion, but you need to match her emotions before she one ups you. Pretend you are just as upset. Say something like, “Oh no! The dishes! Oh, that’s terrible! God!”
Rule No. 6: Apologize, apologize, apologize. Even if it’s not your fault. Even if you know it was her turn with the dishes and you were the one who made the spaghetti sauce the night before. Just tell her you’re sorry. Over and over again.
Rule No. 7: If you see she’s still in a tizzy, step in and actually do the thing she’s asking you to do. Yes, clean the dishes for her. Tell her to go sit down on the couch for a minute and you’ll take care of it. Really, it’s just dishes. If you don’t offer to help, consider yourself signed up for a week long marathon of The Good and Pissed Off Wife.
Rule No. 8: Never ask her, “Why are you so mad?” This is the equivalent of dumping a can of gasoline on a roaring fire.
Rule No. 9: And for God’s sake, never, ever say, “What did I do?” That is a Pandora’s box you don’t want to bust open, trust me.
So now that you know these rules, let’s start the scene again:
Woman: Ugh! What the–? The dishes are clean?
Man: They are? Let me see. (Man puts the chip bag down on the counter and peers into the dishwasher) Oh, man! They ARE clean! I’m sorry. I must have forgotten to take them out. Don’t worry, I’ll take them out and get it all cleaned up. You go sit on the couch and watch some TV before dinner, okay? (Man starts taking the dishes out of the dishwasher)
Woman: Oh, that’s okay. I’ll help you. It was probably my fault.
Man: Oh, no. It was my fault. I’m sorry. I am really, really sorry. So very sorry.
Woman: That’s okay.
Man: No. I mean it. I am sorry.
(Woman and Man put dishes away together. Chip bag and salsa are intact.)
See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?
I have faith in you guys. I know you can do it. If you follow the above rules, I guarantee you’ll come out of every potential minor and major squabble (mostly) unscathed.