I realized the other day that it had been a while since Chris and I had a good knock down, drag out fight. Which is saying something because we are smack dab in the middle of our 7th year of marriage, and isn’t that supposed to be the big one? The seven year itch one? The one that every young couple dreads?
The seventh year. (insert high pitched, horror movie scream here)
But we are in the middle of Year Seven, and I would say that this year we have had less fights and arguments than any previous year. So, I was pondering that the other day. I’ve been really focusing on joy in my life by trying to recognize what gives me joy and what takes my joy away. One of the things that gives me the most joy is Chris. He’s a keeper. He makes my toes tingle and my heart flutter. We aren’t a really dramatic couple, I would say. We aren’t exploding into fights all the time, but we do have our fair share of arguments that occasionally build up into a pretty good fight. But it’s been a while, and as I was driving home from my mom’s house this weekend, I tried to figure out how that had happened.
About six months ago, I started trying something new in my marriage. It was actually something new in my life. I started to think before I spoke.
Radical, I know.
I had never done that before. Anything that goes through my head, usually comes out of my mouth (and onto the blog, in most cases…). There is very little filter going on inside of me. What you see is what you get, and I’ve always liked that. No games, no guessing. I yam what I yam.
But at the beginning of this year, for some reason I started to notice that what I said off the top of my head wasn’t always the right thing to say to my husband. With Chris, I REALLY have no filter. We’ve been together for over half my life. Talking to him is a lot like talking to myself. And I can sometimes talk very harshly. I can be critical and demanding. I can pick at things that in hindsight weren’t that big of a deal.
So, about the time I became a “Yes Mom,” I tried becoming a “Yes Wife,” too. I started asking myself when I would feel a criticism or argument coming on, “Is this worth a fight?” And more than half the time, it really wasn’t.
My mom always told me that I needed to learn how to pick my battles. “People can’t always be perfect, Katie,” she would say. I have incredibly high expectations – both for myself and the people around me. And she was reminding me that sometimes I needed to let things go. In the early years of my marriage, I thought picking my battles meant picking what we fought about. But all that would do was make me hold in my anger and frustration until I was seething and then I’d erupt days later over something completely unimportant and unrelated to the actual problem.
Now, in my wise old seven years of marriage, I have learned that picking my battles has nothing to do with fighting. Picking your battles means choosing what’s worth getting angry over. It doesn’t do me any good to say, “I’m not going to fight with him about that, even though I’m still really angry about it.” The anger is the problem. Not the fight. What I needed to focus on instead was learning when anger was the appropriate response and when I needed to really let it go.
Here are some things that have come up just in the past week where I had to reevaluate my battle:
1. Chris took Bean to pick out socks for church. They bought very expensive, bright blue and green socks with monsters on them in the wrong size. Is that annoying? Yes. Did it drive me nuts? Yes. But is it worth my anger? Absolutely not. They are SOCKS.
2. Chris has been painting the outside of our house for three months. It’s a big project. The weekend after Christmas was beautiful weather, and the kids were at my mom’s house, so it was optimal time for Chris to finish the house up. Instead, he asked if I thought it would be okay for him to go golfing since he’d gotten a new golf club for Christmas that he hadn’t used yet. Is that annoying? Yes. Was it what I wanted? No. But is it worth my anger? Not really. It’s just a house. Houses can wait. Why not enjoy his last free weekend before Christmas was over? So, I sent him out to play golf AND I booked he and his friends another round at a different course the next day.
These are not major life problems. They are small annoyances or slight changes in my plans. Not only are the not worth me fighting with Chris over, they aren’t even worth my anger. I’ve started asking myself when something comes up, “Why not?” And I mean that literally. What are the REASONS that this isn’t a good idea? If there aren’t any, then why get angry? Now, there have been times when it IS worth the anger. Times when it is important to me and it does bother me and I will fight for those. But just stopping to evaluate how important something is to me before I jump into action has made a huge difference in my marriage because I’m taking control over the things that I can actually control.
My job is not to control Chris. He is not mine to possess. What I can control, though, is how I react to situations. And as I looked back over how I’ve changed my reactions over the past six months, I started to notice that somehow this has changed CHRIS’S reactions, too. Both of us are more considerate of the other. We are both slower to anger. We are both thoughtful in our responses now. Changing myself made a huge impact on both of us.
I heard a sermon recently about giving away your joy. It talked about how every time you come up against a challenge or a frustration, it is your choice if you are going to give your joy away or not. By choosing to become upset and give in to that anger, you are choosing to give some of your joy away. I think that really sums up how I’m trying to keep joy in my marriage. In choosing what angers and frustrates me, I’m choosing how much joy we keep in our marriage. And the result has been a joyful six month period with much less fighting and arguing.
Picking your battles is not about choosing when to fight. It’s about choosing what is worth your anger and what is not. The battle is not with your spouse. The battle that you are choosing is about you.
And it only took me seven years to figure that out.