In mid-December on our road trip to see family for Christmas, I decided to feed my audio book The Secrets of Happy Families into our car stereo. The kids mostly ignored it, busy with other things, but Scott and I listened in while miles and miles of mountains and farm land passed by.
We came upon a section about how to fight.
The author describes a fight he and his wife got in over what to serve at their child’s birthday party. She wanted to do a full meal and he wanted to serve snacks. He came to the conclusion that they were not fighting over pretzels and pizzas, but deeper values.
She didn’t want to appear cheap and wanted to provide for the kids and he wanted save money and keep things simple. He suggests that most of the time what you’re fighting about is not really what you’re fighting about. Usually, there is a deeper set of values that are being debated.
Not even hours later, as we still drove home, Scott and I started into our first post-audiobook fight.
(Early apologies for the content of this fight but I know many couples might relate.)
He made a comment about wanting to take me to Victoria’s Secret and buy “me” a Christmas gift.
I can’t remember exactly how my reaction went except it wasn’t an audible “No.” It went something like a huge sigh and look out the window to avoid the conversation.
He was immediately on the defensive, feeling like I was being prudish and unwilling to be fun and intimate with him.
Something different happened though.
He stopped his angry response and said, “Tell my why you don’t want to.”
I calmly explained that it had nothing to do with him, really, it’s just that our budget was out of control already because of Christmas and on the heels of posting about Fair Trade Tuesday, I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of buying anything from there, unsure of what we would be supporting.
Immediately, the fight stopped. “Yeah, that makes sense,” he said.
I’ve never felt more heard and validated in an argument than that moment. And honestly—more ready than ever to make a trip to Victoria’s Secret.
For once, what we were really fighting about was clear and we didn’t spend the next 6 hours of our road trip staring out the window holding our end of the silent treatment up.
Does this mean we never argue now? Not at all, but it did open our eyes to the idea that often what we’re arguing about isn’t really what we’re arguing about and challenges us to pause to get to the heart of the matter.