When all hell breaks loose, does that mean the two of you are really in trouble? Mark Epstein used to think so…
One of the first fights my wife and I ever had, some months into our marriage, was about how to wash lettuce. It was a small thing that flared into a big thing, and it sent me running to my therapist for help in putting out the fire. We were newly married, and making dinner after work in our new apartment. I was preparing the salad, and my wife made a suggestion that I heard as a criticism. Or perhaps she criticized me and then claimed she was making a suggestion; it depends on who you want to believe. In any case, suddenly we were at odds. Things had gone wrong. Our unity, our very love for each other, was disrupted. Our marriage, the foundation of all that we believed in, was under siege. She thought I was oversensitive and ridiculous. I thought she was controlling and unapologetic. We could not see eye to eye. I had trouble even looking at her.
I was still angry when I went for my therapy appointment, but frustrated and sheepish and confused as well. “I suppose all I can do at these times is love her all the more strongly,” I said to my therapist, drawing on my reserve of good intention, my belief in my marriage, and my conviction that by force of will I could get these troublesome feelings out of the way. I was frightened to be at odds with the person I most needed and was willing to do whatever my therapist suggested to make things better.
“Love her more strongly? That will never work,” he replied with barely concealed disdain. “What’s wrong with being angry?”