How not to be afraid that your marriage is over when you and your spouse fight

Why Women Test MenA coaching client (and podcast listener) of mine recently sent an email with the following question:

How did your husband, a product of divorce, learn to stop fearing divorce or abandonment every time you two had an argument or problem? I listened to your latest podcast where he mentions that, but I would like to know more.

I passed this query onto my husband Bill, who wrote such a lengthy response to my client I decided to share it here. I figure she can’t be the only person with the same question. Here was my husband’s response, word for word:

Dear C.,

I had to retrain my brain. This did not happen overnight. Early in our marriage, we would have disagreements. Sometimes heated. Raised voices even (we are both passionate in all ways). I would go to work steaming all day. Then, when I arrived back home, I would assume the pressure of the fight would continue, but it did not. Suz would address me like nothing happened. Of course this confused and confounded me. 

This happened several times over those early years until one day I expressed what was going on in my head to Suzanne. To which she would said, ”Oh, I moved on from that hours ago!” So then we would discuss the whole thing, apologize and forgive. 

I then forced myself to rethink any fight by backing up from it. I did this by asking myself if the subject of the fight was a divorce-worthy offense. 100% it was not. So I had to edit my thinking to understand that every fight or disagreement is not the final nail to the heart of our relationship. 

It is important to examine your own history, objectively. Again, self-editing. Stand back from it. My parents did not fight in front of my siblings or me; they went to their bedroom. I don’t believe that helps anyone. All the kids hear is muffled high energy and yelling. Not helpful to a child’s psyche or sense of security. 

An important note: High-conflict fighting (name calling or hitting, etc.) is unacceptable for children to witness. Both ways of fighting cause tremendous stress to a child’s heart. Remember they love you BOTH unconditionally and equally. They don’t understand why you would ever fight. You are their security. 

Suz and I believe most (civil) disagreements can occur in front of children and should especially include the making up with hugs, kisses and I love you’s. Children need to see how to disagree in a healthy way. This is how they learn to navigate marriage: by example. It is also important to stay calm. No name calling. That heats things up and can become abusive. 

If your spouse throws gas on the fire, calmly use your internal blanket and douse it. The more you don’t add fuel, the calmer and more reasoned the disagreement. You both want to be heard. Oddly, speaking calmly works much better. And by staying calm you help your spouse/significant other to mimic your demeanor. 

Heated emotions cause fires. If you are both standing your ground, agree to stop and take some time. It could be 15 min, an hour or two, or even a whole day. This allows both of you to collect your thoughts, and, more importantly, to try to understand the other’s position. 

In a recent interview with Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue about their marriage, they said they “kicked a lot of cans down the road,” meaning there will be things you just don’t agree about. They are empty tin subjects—worthless and ready for the recycle bin. Maybe those cans can be reformed for other couples to learn from. The most important take away? They just aren’t that important. 

Hope that helps.

Bill V. 

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.