As published in The Huffington Post, April, 2014.
All married people struggle with disputes that arise in a long-term committed relationship. What to do about the predictable and ever-repeating disagreements and mutual criticisms that come up from time to time, but hopefully not too often. As Daniel Jones, editor of the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times puts it, marriage can be punctuated by “deadening routines, cyclical arguments and repetitive conversations”.
Let’s take one typical marital argument:
Spouse A likes to pack as efficiently as possible for a vacation. Spouse A’s rolling luggage can be brought onto the plane and stored in the overhead bins. It’s packed so tightly, that it looks like a three-dimensional puzzle.
Spouse B likes to pack amply for a vacation, even if not all the packed items are used. Spouse B does not like to think of possibly needing clothing or sundries during the trip. This means a larger suitcase for Spouse B, due to the less careful packing. And B’s suitcase needs to be checked and cannot be brought onto the plane. Another downside is that it is very heavy to carry and even to roll. Spouse A ends up mostly carrying it or rolling it, because Spouse B just can’t handle it alone.
At the beginning of each trip, predictably, like clockwork, there is a heated discussion (really, a very hot argument) about what to bring, and how to pack. The discussion spins downwards and can become very nasty. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you that Spouse A and Spouse B have been married for 30 years.
You may possibly see yourself (perhaps in a different repeating situation) in this little cautionary tale.
You could go to a marital counselor or marital therapist to try to gain some insight into the battle. The therapist may delve into family histories, family or origin structures, early training, gender based differences, and may segue into your fighting and arguing styles. The therapist may give you tools to listen to each other better, or communicate more about the luggage.
You could also go into individual therapy with a psychotherapist, who may investigate your (Spouse B’s) need to pack so amply. The therapist may also analyze Spouse A’s tight packing behavior, and help the each individual understand the basis of his/her and the other’s spouses attitude, and perhaps develop some understanding.
There is an easier and more economical solution: a Spousal Waiver.
A Spousal Waiver is useful when Spouse A and Spouse B realize that there is no changing the other’s views and feelings around an issue, such as packing-for-vacation. They feel comfortable maintaining their own packing styles. They have come to the mature realization that how you pack for vacation is simply not worth fighting about
This gives Spouse A and Spouse B the freedom to pack as they each wish. According to the rules of the Spousal Waiver, either party should not be harmed. So theoretically, Spouse B (even if weak) should pull his/her own luggage, although Spouse A may, at times, offer to pull it. Yes, it will take more waiting time at the airport to retrieve Spouse B’s luggage. I would think Spouse B could make amends for that during the holiday.
The result: one more little destructive dispute in a “gray” (longstanding) marriage is eliminated, and the marital satisfaction quotient becomes higher. The dispute probably is unresolvable, even with deep therapy and analysis. Spouse A and Spouse B are just different. They can endeavor to accept that without trying to change the other.
This is more or less the approach of Marital Mediation, in which mediation techniques are used to resolve marital disputes, large and small.
In Marital Mediation, disputes (even nasty ones) are analyzed, and mutual resolution on the issue is aided with the help of a neutral third-party – a mediator – being present to organize and facilitate the discussion.
Generally, there is no delving into the deep-seated reasons for behaviors or attitudes. There may be an analysis of the practical result of making alternate decisions. Then a solution is suggested, either by one or both of the parties, or the mediator. The agreement can be written down, or can simply be understood to be the rule that the couple will follow in the future.
In this case, each party’s differing interests (packing amply, or packing carefully) can be respected, which goes far beyond angry toleration. Transactions like these improve the daily commerce of a marriage.
So the next time you and your spouse have a dispute, ask yourselves, is it really important? Does it have to be “my way or the highway”? Can one of you give a Spousal Waiver to the other on this issue? You might find you can clear away some of the unnecessary detritus in your marriage by following this simple technique.