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COMMITMENTS : Sometimes a Little Yelling Is Good for a Marriage

August 14, 1995|JOYCE GABRIEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are a couple of schools of thought on fighting in a marriage or a relationship. I subscribe to the theory that a fight every once in a while can be truly cathartic, even therapeutic.

Not everyone agrees, of course. I have one friend who swears she and her husband have never had a fight in more than 30 years of marriage. He agrees, admitting that whenever a fight loomed, he would simply leave the house. What a saint.

My husband and I could never make that claim, and I wouldn't want to. We can argue over any number of issues, not that we do it all the time. But the thought of blandly agreeing with each other all the time is so vanilla as to be unthinkable. How boring.

Thoughts and feelings need to be shared--both negative and positive ones--or relationships can lose their honesty and their emotional reality. I have no psychology degree, mind you, but I am a veteran of domestic skirmishes, even battles.

You can argue, even yell at each other, and nothing permanently bad will happen, so long as you don't say something hurtful and irrevocable and so long as you're willing to make up by bedtime.

It's really wearing on any relationship to go to bed angry. No matter how mad you are, making up on the same day you fought keeps fights from festering into pitched battles that can get bitter.

The give and take of a good argument can clear the air and clarify one's thought processes. It can also lead to productive, positive discussion, which can actually solve problems that may have been simmering for a while.

It's those simmering problems, never brought to the boil, that can erode relationships as spouses stop telling each other what they really think.

Of course, some people enjoy a good fight more than others. On the other hand, some people will do almost anything to avoid one.

It is no fun to try fighting with someone who wants only to avoid conflict. I tried that once, but no amount of provocative behavior would elicit a response. And while I wouldn't presume to say they're wrong in avoiding conflict, I do think a good fight now and then is OK.

There are times in your marriage when fights are more likely to occur. When the kids are very young and you are both very tired, fights can erupt just because you're cranky and worn out.

When there are job pressures--his, yours or both--fights can erupt because who else can you vent to (or at, for that matter)?

Friends and relatives can be catalysts for fights, such as in "Your mother always . . . " or "Your brother never . . . " or "Not dinner with your best friend Bill again?"

Fights can erupt over virtually nothing, appearing as suddenly as a summer squall, hitting with the same intensity and then fading away before you can quite take them in.

Those quick fights can even be fun because you end up laughing at yourselves for fighting over nothing. The ability to laugh at yourself is helpful in any relationship. It prevents you from becoming an immovable object, devoid of humor.

Whatever you fight about, it's no secret that making up can be great fun.

And the heat and light generated in the fighting process can be invigorating, just so long as the blows are only verbal and inflict only temporary harm. Conflicts can boil over, you can both have your say, even shouting parts of it, and life and your love for each other and your marriage will go on.

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