Spring days are meant to be enjoyed, right? After enduring the gloomy scenes of winter, a spring day, warm and green with a brisk breeze blowing, just screams, “come outside and make family memories!!!” We could be hiking, eating a picnic lunch, tossing a frisbee in the backyard, riding bikes around our neighborhood, anything! I’d even be content just to take a walk around the block! There’s sun and happiness and all that wonderful vitamin D, right? Can I get an amen!?
But last week, when the weather outside was verdant and glorious there was one day when my family never made it out the front door (didn’t even crack the blinds really).
You see, Paul and I were arguing. It was the type of argument that began with some off-hand remarks that landed between us and began to simmer, then flare, then spread to any available kindling (of the emotional sort.) Soon the fire was sizable and able to last for hours, just as long as we kept adding fuel in the form of little barbs, sarcastic remarks, and charged statements of pseudo-fact (of the “you always” and “I never” variety.) Eventually, the feeling of general discord just hung like a murky smog over our home.
Yeah, the sun was shining outside, but inside it was cloudy, with a chance of conflict.
As I climb into bed at the end of these types of days I feel a double sense of despondence. First, we wasted a beautiful day by staying inside (I weep for the lost vitamin D!) and second, we wasted it in an extremely frustrating manner.
Remember when I wrote that blog article about being a hormonal wife, and the trials and tribulations that accompany any hormonally charged emotional crisis? Well, a few days ago I could have given you a prime example of just how ugly those types of crises can get.
But here’s the thing I want to suggest to you, (because I know that we’re more alike than different and that cloudy days like mine probably happen in your house too)…please, don’t waste the argument.
Don’t waste away an opportunity to right a wrong, ask for forgiveness, correct a misconception, share a feeling or explore a relationship. The day is already crappy, right? You have the opportunity to redeem some of it if you’re willing to plug your nose, pull on some surgical gloves and do an autopsy on the unpleasantness that was your moment, hour, or day of conflict. And while you can do this alone, it is much better to do it with the person who participated in the bonfire building.
Perhaps in your house it wouldn’t work to debrief immediately after the emotional conflagration. Perhaps you need a day or two to process. In our house, we usually debrief the same day and then again the day after…all depending on how bad/long the argument ended up being.
So, what does the autopsic conversation look like? I wouldn’t say it has to follow a specific format, but the following topics are covered at some point.
- What precipitated the argument? Were you hormonal? Hungry? In a bad mood for some other un-related reason that triggered a nasty response to this situation? Help each other understand what baggage you might have been bringing to the table.
- What did we want from the argument? What was our goal? Was it a good goal? Why have that particular goal? For example, did you want to make the other person feel bad (ashamed, guilty, stupid, or perhaps just to hurt them in general)? Did you want to defend yourself? Did you want to prove a point come hell or high water? What outcome did you want? Why fight to get that outcome as opposed to something else? What kept the fight going?
- What were we feeling during the argument? Attacked? Maligned? Misunderstood? Judged? Help your spouse understand your responses…maybe they don’t know that a certain phrase (a certain roll of the eyes or a certain inimical vocal tone) made you feel stupid (not that I know what that’s like AT ALL ; ), or maybe they didn’t know that a certain phrase made you feel like a loser, a heretic, a wimp, lazy, uncared for, and etc.
- What did we do wrong? Where did sin gain the upper hand? Where did our words become weapons instead of tools? Where did we consider the biting words and instead of holding them in, let them fly. When did we assume the worst? When did we care about ourselves (our security, our peace of mind, our control etc) more than we loved our spouse. Chances are that our argument involved something along those lines (James 4:1).
- Ask for and grant forgiveness. From God and from your spouse. Just do it. Don’t run from it. There is joy in repentance and a restored relationship both from the forgiver (Matt 5:7) and the forgiven (Ps 51:12). I promise (and God promises too ?.
You might look at that list and groan. Or roll your eyes. Or sit, stunned, imagining Paul and I hashing this all out over our kitchen table. But it’s true that we try to do this after nearly every fight or disagreement.
Is it fun? Heck no!! It’s awful. It’s embarrassing (because sinful choices, once examined, often make us feel foolish). It’s long. It fills up hours we could have spent outside ?
But is it worthwhile? Absolutely. No question in my mind. When couples in crisis tell Paul and me about the state of their crumbling marriage we almost always hear the phrases, “I didn’t know that,” “I didn’t know how you felt,” “I didn’t know that you saw it that way,” “I didn’t know that’s how you took what I said,” “I didn’t know that you were hurting or upset.” These declarations are often proceeded by descriptions of conflict that were left strewn about their marriage like so many pieces of rubbish in a hoarders residence. One piece of trash isn’t the end of the world, but piles of rotting garbage make a house unbearable. Sometimes people just walk away from that house – overwhelmed by the idea of cleaning it up.
So friends, join us in learning to deal with your emotional trash. It’s helpful to know that others lose their sunny days to this kind of work the same as we do! When conflict happens, always deal with it later. Pick it up, examine it, and understand why it happened and what went wrong and then throw it away through the act of repentance and seeking (or granting) forgiveness.
Cleaning is a task that I am loath to do. But I truly loathe a messy house more (haha! Which is actually one of the triggers that set me off! Thus, Paul loves me by cleaning up the house. Hopefully my boys will learn this trick too, and soon : ) and so we have committed to do the work with each other.
Perhaps you lost a beautiful day to the storms of conflict. Perhaps your house is looking a little trashy. Perhaps you need to prayerfully ask God to give you the courage to sit down (pace the house, stand, walk…whatever works : ) together and do some debriefing.
Besides, the sun will come out tomorrow (probably) and you can make happier memories then.