My husband and I never used to fight, but there have been a lot of fights, or almost-fights, the last few months. My husband is on the verge of losing his job in a restructuring, and we have three kids under the age of five. So he’s tense and on edge all the time, and little irritations tend to blow up into arguments. I can’t stand the kids being around that. I hate conflict in general, so I tend to take the kids and go to the mall or the park just to avoid the tension. My husband thinks I’m running away from him or the issues we need to deal with, but I’m just trying to keep the peace. And I don’t know what to say to him anymore, anyway. How can I get him to stop picking fights so we can get back to how we were?
I think you’re mistaking conflict avoidance for peace. When voices are raised or things get tense, you run out the door. That isn’t peace. It is a one-sided effort to avoid the very real issues that need to be discussed – and it cuts your husband completely out of the process. To be sure, it sounds like your husband needs to work on how he handles his stress, but it also sounds like he really does want to work things out with you. And it can be very damaging if you don’t let that process happen.
The bigger problem is that it will be very difficult for that process to happen well, if you don’t restore the friendship between you and your husband. Your husband should be by far your closest friend – and that deep friendship should provide the basis for being able to address issues well even when times are tough. Think about it: in any situation, good friends who know and care about each other deeply can usually hash things out when there is stress in their relationship. And it was clear in my research that it works the same way in marriage.
But right now, by spending less and less time with your husband, you are creating a situation where you are more acquaintances than best friends. You’re creating so much distance, you don’t even know how to talk to him anymore.
To “get back to how you were”, I urge you to do whatever you need to do, to restore your friendship with this most important person in your life. And that means spending time together without the pressure of a big discussion, but just catching up on what is going on with each of you. Ask a friend to babysit and go out to a cheap dinner just for fun, and to get some alone time. Take the kids for a walk around the neighborhood together. Sit on the couch and watch an old favorite movie once the kids are in bed. Spend time together restoring and rebuilding your relationship as best friends who can tell each other anything.
And then be willing to trust your best friend with a confession of how much you hate conflict, but how much you want to be willing to work things out instead. Trust him with a plea for what you need in order for that to happen. For example, explain how insecure his raised voice makes you feel, and ask if he can take a few deep breaths and speak calmly instead. And show him that you mean it, by hanging in there the next time there is tension in the air.
After all, it sounds like this is a very difficult season for your husband, as well, and it is a blessing that he wants your support and presence during this time. If you both can navigate this period with your friendship front and center, I believe that not only will you “get back to where you used to be,” but you’ll find that you are so much closer.
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Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.