Recounts Dederer earlier in her book about a "not entirely successful" date night out, "that vaunted American custom," which, when you are married "buzzes irritatingly on the periphery of your consciousness, the way New Year's Eve does for single people." They were out on a date night to celebrate her birthday, but both were exhausted, possibly with the flu, and on deadlines. Feeling rebellion fomenting on her side of the table at the lack of her husband's courtship and conversation, she "glared briefly" at her husband.
"What?" he said. This may be the most ominous syllable in the lexicon of marriage. And of course there was only one answer for me to give, and I think any married person knows what that answer was:Lidia Yuknavitch delivers more gritty narrative about couples arguing in her memoir The Chronology of Water:
"Nothing," I said.
He sat his fork down with a minuscule, almost inaudible clank, a tiny little sound that was marital shorthand for "This dinner is pretty expensive. Do we have to ruin it with whatever is about to happen?" There was a little bit of "Go fuck yourself" thrown in for good measure.
"What?" he said.
"Nothing," I said. Really, this two-word exchange could make up an entire play about marriage.
People — I guess I mean couples — don't like to talk much about fighting. It's not attractive. No one likes to admit it or describe it or lay claim to it. We want our coupledoms to look ... sanitized and pretty and worthy of admiration. And anger blasts are ugly. But, I think that is a crock. There is a kind of fighting that isn't ugly. There is a way for anger to come out as an energy you let loose and away. The trick is to give it a form, and not a human target. The trick is to transform rage.Yuknavitch describes how watching her husband go at the heavy boxing bag, or "work his body to drop doing mixed marital arts," she can see how "anger can go somewhere — out and away from a body — like an energy let loose and given form. Like my junk comes out in art. Though," she continues, "like anyone else, our arguments are sloppy and dumb and artless. We look like cartoon adults, just like everyone. Like the time he put all our living room furniture out on the lawn. Or the time I grabbed his computer mouse and bit the cord in half. Yeah. Subtle. But I gotta tell you. People who never get angry frighten me."
If not exactly frightened, I do feel a deep unease around people who feign peace on all fronts. It's just not realistic to me. Anyone who is interested in personal and relationship growth knows that growth comes with a sense of internal and relational conflict. Recounts Yuknavitch about how she and her husband fought at first:
In the beginning, we fought. Boy howdy. I fought like a woman whose father had betrayed her and whose mother abandoned her. He fought like a man who never had a father and whose mother's heart didn't quite reach him. Working out our childhood wounds at each other. Because ... because we could take it. Because there was something on the other side.What a gift to have a spouse with whom you can work out your wounds and grow through them. My husband has certainly provided a safe space for me throughout our years together to confront and attempt to solve my personal issues, and he continues to do so. And I can tell on a very deep level that our marriage has grown and keeps growing stronger for the conflicts we have dared to delve into to figure out and resolve. The problem I have had with arguing, is not arguing per se, but the conflicted feelings I have had about it in the past. These days, I'm been making friends with healthy conflict and arguing.
photo credit: marriage and family