My parents enjoy the visits Eric and I make to their house and they find Ramsey (our golden retriever) to be a wealth of entertainment. They love sitting on the porch and watching her chase thrown Frisbees. They laugh heartily when she steals someone’s underwear and proceeds to drag it all over the house. They love giving her treats and watching her gobble them up. And they think she looks so sweet when she’s sleeping. But…
They can’t stand her slobber. When she bounces up to them with a toy in her mouth that she wants them to either tug or throw, they say “eww, no thank you” or “Go to Mama” (meaning me) as they pull their arms back to avoid getting slimed. They enjoy her, but they would never want to own her. Owning her involves brushing her teeth, picking up her “lawn ornaments” with bags (make sure there are no holes!), and handling her wet, slobbery Frisbee every day. Having a dog is not always a neat, clean job, but you can’t be afraid of slobber.
Being married is a lot like having a dog. You enjoy so many aspects of your relationship, but in order to keep a marriage going, you have to tackle some less than desirable tasks as well; every day won’t be rosy. While enjoying the pleasant and prosperous times, it is nearly inevitable that you will have some unfortunate times.
When you get married, you need to understand that arguments, hard decisions, and sleepless nights will come. Not every discussion will be pleasant – and though avoiding unpleasant talks may feel best at the time, in the long run, your marriage will be harmed.
Let’s say that Eric and I refused to deal with any of the unpleasant parts of dog ownership. We would play with Ramsey, give her treats, and laugh at her when she does funny things, but we would never take her outside to use the bathroom, never brush her teeth, never have her groomed, and never brush her fur. Before too long, we would not be able to enjoy the good times with Ramsey because our living space would be unbearable. We would be constantly stepping in her waste, her breath would smell terrible, her teeth would rot, she would likely get fleas, and her beautiful coat would be matted and unattractive.
Too often, couples put up a front. They carry on in public as if they are loving life and enjoying a fruitful relationship. However, in private, they are growing further apart each day. They may cling to their physical relationship as evidence that their relationship is okay, but this won’t last forever. When the time comes to get real about their problems, one or both of them may choose to avoid all negative conversations for any amount of reasons.
Perhaps his or her family of origin did not address conflict or maybe they addressed conflict too harshly. Maybe one or both of them are terrified of being hurt, so they choose to avoid anything that may cause them pain. Perhaps one or both of them are afraid that nothing will get resolved and the problem will get worse.
No matter what the reason, when couples avoid the bad times, the bad times will eventually become the norm. When each mess is cleaned up shortly after it is made, a house remains clean. When messes are ignored for months and years, the task of cleaning becomes overwhelming and debilitating.
The sooner we attack the unpleasant tasks, the sooner we can enjoy a clean, satisfying marriage. Eric and I recommend to our clients a weekly meeting where issues that came up during the week that are bothering you can be brought to the table in a calm way. This way you always know that you are going to have a chance to get things out in the open without having to address each other immediately over every small offense. Obviously big issues should not wait, but smaller things can. Starting this habit early will help you to keep your marital house clean.
Do you fear the slobber? Do you have a tendency to avoid negative conversations? Do you run from conflict? How has your relationship to conflict affected your relationships?