How to Pick Your Battles

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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.

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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.

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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.

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31 thoughts on “How to Pick Your Battles

  1. As a newlywed (almost 2 years in, when are you old-wed?!) and fellow high expectations queen, I LOVE this perspective and appreciate the advice 🙂

  2. Christy

    But he started it!

  3. Thank you for learning that lesson so that I don’t have to 😉 Just kidding, of course. Enjoy your newfound, and continued, joy!

  4. Cassie

    As someone who was once engaged to be married, cancelled said wedding, broke up with said individual, and is now REALLY getting married to the same guy (I really should have a blog…) I can highly identify with this post. Through our problems, this is something I have finally discovered for myself. Only I wasn’t able to put it into words. Thank you for clearing my muddled thoughts! 🙂

  5. jenny-bird

    Sometimes it’s a matter of considering whether it is truly a terrible choice or whether it is a choice that I wouldn’t have made. P.S. I really like the metaphor of choosing to surf the wave. 🙂

  6. Mae

    Hmm…you’ve def given me something to think about. Although I haven’t been with my husband as long as you and Chris (8.5 years), we will be celebrating our 5 yr wedding anniversary next weekend (yay!) and I’ve def gotten very comfortable with him and often (ok almost always) talk without thinking. Maybe I need to start filtering and see if it helps our marriage and lessens the number of fights/arguments that we have (not that our marriage is crumbling, but just sayin’). I should start being more of a “yes wife” and see if that helps. Thanks for the new perspective!

  7. Alex

    Hey, I have been married for seven years and have been slowly realizing the same thing! My husband and I have been together since high school and I almost treat him as an extension of myself when I talk to him, critisisms and all. It’s actually part of my New Years resolution to be less critical of him and more constructive instead. Thanks for articulating some of my thoughts and giving me some inspiration!

  8. I seriously thought you were writing about me. I too have no filter and have an even harder time picking my battles. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am keeping it close!

  9. jessica

    EXCELLENT post as always! Thank you!

  10. I really love this post! It sums up perfectly what my one big resolution for 2013 is – ask yourself if it’s really that bad and if it’s worth fighting for/against/with somebody.
    It’s a tough lesson for me, but something I definitely want to achieve. Thanks for assuring me, that it works! 🙂

  11. Kristinia

    I really needed your blog post today!! I am getting married in June and find the advice of real people in real marriages so helpful. I needed to read your post today as this is me sometimes if not most of the time. Thank you for your honest and openness to all of us followers.

  12. Jennifer

    As my mom tells me…
    Jennifer, do you really want to die on that hill?
    I have a very hard time letting anything go. I’m learning that some things just aren’t worth my time. Too many good books to read that are worth my time!!

  13. Tracy

    Thank you for this post. Good to know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this!

  14. oh God has a funny sense of timing huh? i read this in the middle of me getting annoyed for no reason … sigh. marriage ain’t for sissies!

  15. This is such an awesome post! I’m about to hit my 9th year of marriage, it is hard! This mind set is so important!!!

  16. i think, if we lived like twenty minutes away from each other, we would be friends. 🙂

    i’m right where you are and am working so hard to pick the right battles. for my marriage, it’s too late, but in life? nope.

    i read this verse in my devotional this morning (THIS MORNING): 2 Timothy 1:7: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

    it’s about being a responder, vs a reactor. it makes a world of difference.

  17. Angie

    This is so true & a great reminder for both personal relationships & professional. I need to learn to have a more active role in what I get upset about at the office…most of the time it’s not actually worth my frustrations.

  18. Candice

    This post is great. I find this SO difficult. I’ll have been with my husband for 8 years this August (currently married for 4 yrs) and I just don’t know how to do this. How do you just NOT get angry? I get angry and then, like you said, it builds until it explodes. I can’t just let it go because it all just truly bothers me. I’m still stuck in, “Well, that’s great, I’ll let this go but what do I get in return?” I don’t get joy in letting it go. I feel frustrated and not-listened-to. Maybe I need to be married 7 years to figure out how to “choose” what to get angry about. I just get angry and it never feels like a choice. I do make a conscious decision to be kinder and think before speaking (um, mostly) but I still initially feel that anger and I just don’t want to. Definitely something to keep working on because being angry is exhausting.

  19. Deanna

    “What I can control, though, is how I react to situations.” That is something I say, basically word for word, to all my family and friends many times a year. When others look to anger or frustration over things that really, does it need that anger? Take a step back and pause. My friends always tell me I am the most level headed person they know and the one who makes them gut-check the other side of the issue/fight/decision. Bravo Katie!

  20. Darcy

    Oh man, this was helpful. I’m 4 months into my marriage and I hear my mom in my head saying “pick your battles!” and I always thought that meant pick your fights… and I also had the resulting built-up anger. I honestly couldn’t figure out how someone could pick their battles and not end up a raging ball of anger. I feel like slapping my forehead and saying “duh!” when reading your blog. I am going to actively try to pick my anger and let it go if it’s just not that important to me. Thanks Katie!

  21. Thank you for this post. We’re 4 months into having 2 kids, and I think it’s been the hardest period my marriage has seen yet. In fact, I don’t think… it has been. We’re much more quick tempered with each other, and I hate it. It’s mostly my fault, really. I get frustrated that we don’t operate on the same wave length… when, really, what 2 people do? anyways… thanks for this post.

  22. Katie

    Why, oh why, could you have not been around writing this 20 years ago, when I was a newylywed? I have just started to think like this myself. It only took me 20 years so you are way ahead of the game. If I had thought things through THEN like I do NOW my marraige would be in a much better place.

  23. Melissa

    I needed to hear/read some of this, especially about letting something steal your joy. Was that a sermon you heard at church, or somewhere else? It sounds sort of Joyce Meyer-ish to me, and it probably one I need to listen and study right now! As a sort of related note, though I know you focus mainly on life and family and what not, would you consider doing a post on what makes you feel closer to the Lord? What sort of devotionals or books you read, Christian music you like, etc? I would find that immensely interesting, and I’m guessing I’m not alone!

  24. Dessi

    I love this post ( and I love the reference to being a yes mom- I have really strived to become a yes mom, myself). I love your positive energy…it really makes my marriage of 3 years better!

  25. Catherine

    Love this post! This could have been written about me. Definitely an inspiration to make changes in my attitutude and how I choose to react and respond to my husband. Thank you!

  26. Wow, I needed this. I’ve never thought about “picking your battles” that way…It’s not choosing whether or not to fight, but choosing whether or not to be angry. Because, I don’t know about everyone else’s husband, but with mine — in most situations, my anger isn’t bothering him. It’s bothering me. 99% of the time it’s not worth it. What a realization!

  27. I couldn’t have read this at a more perfect time. Great post!

  28. Okay, this is my third comment in ONE day. I love your blog, that I just discovered. And I love this post! For myself I notice how much discipline it takes to control what comes out of my mouth. But I so need to do so. One thing that I incorporated is reading Proverbs in the Bible, it’s all about wisdom and ‘biting your tongue’ so to say. Was it hard for you to bring about this change? I’d love to hear…

  29. I want to thank you so much for writing this. I’ve recently been thinking about how I need to pick my battles, but it’s so true that what I really need to think about is picking my emotions. It’s going to take some time and work, but thank you so much for helping me realize it.

  30. Mrs.Indovina

    I’ve been married almost 2 years now and picking my battles is something I need to master. I’m thick headed and hate when my husband doesn’t hear what I am saying. I feel picking my battles will help us both. I thank you for your post and will be following your advice!

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