My book club (and my husband) just finished the book Everybody Fights by the Holderness Family. I had no idea what to expect. It was a really good book about marriage. I read the book and listened to the audio book. I strongly recommend listening to it because Kim and Penn are so fun to listen to. If you don’t know who the Holderness family is, go look them up. They are living our lives. They are in the throws of parenting and marriage. They usually make song parodies about what we are going through. That is not what this book is at all. This book is about how their Pastor really helped them improve their marriage and their fighting. We can all learn how to fight better.

My fabulous Book Club recorded a podcast with me as a book review that you will enjoy. That will air in March. My husband and I also recorded a Valentine Special together discussing what we learned to have a better marriage. I hope you will read this and take something away to make you a better fighter. What I mean by that is that we can fight hard and nasty with our partner or we can learn to have a helpful disagreement and use good conflict resolution skills.

Kim and Penn talk about their rules for fighting. Seth and I realized that we have unstated rules that we have never spelled out on paper. I encourage you to sit down with your partner and write down some rules. Here are a few rules that Seth and I came up with that is applicable to our marriage:

  • Refrain from any name calling or swear words.
  • We know how to hurt each other and we need to use our powers for good not evil!
  • Keep our parents out of it. No, “You are acting like your parent.”

It felt so good to talk about our marriage. We realized that doing a podcast together about marriage is a therapy session for us. It felt so good to work on our marriage together. We need to do that more often.

I love that Kim and Penn talked about the word metacommunication. This is when you talk about how you communicate. Seth has always been such a good sport and will talk about a fight after we have cooled off. My questions that I learned from doing therapy are: What did we do right? What do we want to improve for next time? I recommend waiting until you are calmed down to do this. This is a great way for me to say to Seth, “It really helped me that you stayed calm. It made me calm down. It really worked for me when you said….” Then he knows to do that next time because I found it helpful. I said to him last night, “When you said, “You just want to stay in that place.” That didn’t work for me. That actually made me angry, but I was able to not react. My goal is always to stay calm and not react. I get better at this every day, but I still screw up.

Try to engage your partner in a discussion about how a fight went. Ask them what you did right. Ask them what you could do better next time. Try not to be defensive. Hear them and take it in so that you can improve yourself and your marriage.

Do you know that it is important to fight? I hope that you do. Seth doesn’t like that word. He prefers that I use the words conflict resolution. If you fight with your partner, then that means that you care. It means that you care enough to say something, and it is an excellent opportunity to improve your marriage. I worry when a couple isn’t fighting. When couples aren’t fighting, they are disengaging with each other and/or letting issues build up. I think communication is the key to every relationship. Seth will say to me, “I didn’t know.” He didn’t know I was having a hard time for example because I didn’t tell him. He doesn’t know that I was dealing with anxiety of my own and it came out as being distant to him. When I communicated and told him what was going on with me, we were able to resolve it and move on but we did argue first. I felt like he was being insensitive, and he felt like I was putting him last. I may have been putting him last and he also didn’t know I was having my own internal struggle that I wasn’t discussing.

When Seth and I were saying goodnight to Ella, he said, “How am I going to deal with three of you having your period?” Oh boy! I feel bad for Seth and Max. When my period is coming, I get cranky and distant. I feel hormonal anxiety. Seth doesn’t always pay attention to the calendar, and he can’t read my mind. We have to tell our partners what is going on with us. We also have to be aware of how we are feeling and if we need sleep, food, don’t feel well, etc. That all impacts how we are getting along with our partner.

Kim and Penn bring up stonewalling. If you don’t know who John Gottman is, he is a martial guru. He has done a ton of research on marriage. Gottman says that stonewalling is one of the four horsemen of marriage. It is really bad for your marriage. Stonewalling is when you refuse to engage with your partner. It’s like you have shut down and went away. When Seth and I fight, sometimes I can get overwhelmed and feel like I need it to stop. My senses all get in overdrive, and I need a break to regroup. I used to run away to a different room and Seth would badger me to talk when I wasn’t ready. Now I tell him that I need to regroup and he doesn’t feel like I just checked out, and knows that I need to calm down. Sometimes it’s not even that I feel reactive. It’s that I feel on overload and need a break. Sometimes we need space to cool off and then we can come back together and discuss. Tell your partner what you need and don’t just stop talking and disengage.

While you are fighting, do you stay on topic, or do you bring up everything you have been upset about? This is why we need to not hold things in. Kim and Penn call it staying in the airport. I learned that we can kitchen sink an argument and be talking about everything we have been upset about instead of staying on the topic at hand. Staying focused helps in many areas of our life including in our marriage. I think Seth and I have significantly improved on this. I think we can gently remind our partner to stay focused if we feel like they are heading out to left field. I think that if you do tend to go off on other tangents during an argument that it shows that you need to communicate more regularly with your partner. Don’t wait for a fight to let it all hang out.

I love that they talked about secret contracts. Those tasks that we have just taken on in our relationship without any real discussion. Seth knows that he will probably come home to dinner cooked. I know that Seth will go downstairs and feed the cats and clean the litter before bed. I know that Seth will come home from work and take the garbage out. Seth knows that his laundry will get washed. We haven’t really discussed any of these things. We just do them. However, if something wasn’t working for us, we need to be willing to discuss and renegotiate. For example, if Seth was tired of taking care of paying all the bills, he would need to sit down with me and ask for help. If I was tired of cooking, I could ask Seth to take care of a weekend night. We have to discuss and constantly negotiate. Maybe you like how everything is going and maybe you are feeling resentful. If you are resentful that your partner never drives your kids to any activities, then nicely bring this up. “Sally has swim, Stacy has soccer, Bobby has baseball tomorrow. What could you do to help me with this? Can we start going over our schedules and discuss who can take which child where because I’m feeling overwhelmed. This isn’t working for me.” They won’t know if we don’t tell them. Maybe you are afraid of the response. My mother always taught me that it’s not what you say it’s how you say it. Say it kindly and watch all the honey you get. We also have no chance of getting anything we want if we don’t ask for it.

Sex and money are the two biggest things that people fight over in marriage. It is rare that a couple agrees on if they are having enough sex. One partner tends to want more than the other partner. This is something to negotiate. You need to be having sex. Kim and Penn talk about a dry spell that they had. Seth and I totally related when they said that everything in your marriage is better when you have regular sex. You are more connected to each other. You are nicer to each other. You are more playful with each other. You need to have sex. I promise you that if you put your list aside and go have sex that you won’t be sorry. Don’t make excuses. Don’t wait for your partner to make the first move. Put yourself out there and make a move.

They even suggest scheduled sex dates in order to increase frequency. They call it laundry dates. I think there is something to be said for scheduled dates and I also love spontaneity. I remember reading that people who have scheduled sex dates are having more sex than people who don’t schedule it.

Seth and I came together with two very different attitudes about money. My parents were very generous with me. They were both working, and I always felt like we had money. Seth came to me with an attitude of scarcity with money. This was understandable with how little he was making at his job when I met him. When Seth and I moved in together and started paying for everything together he hopefully found a much easier world. The man was living on a very tight budget when I met him. There were times he couldn’t pay his rent. He lived on carnation breakfast and chicken patties. When we purchased our first house, I totally underspent because of how nervous this large purchase was making him. When we went to purchase our second house, he kept bringing my price range down. I asked him if we could buy a hot tub and I saw the look. I think it is still hard for Seth to spend a big chunk of money. I love how responsible he is. I love that he is planning out Bat Mitzvah’s, college and weddings. The man has a lot to pay for (I am helping of course). Hopefully both of our pay checks will keep going up and we will be able to pay for our children’s college educations, weddings, etc.

As Seth makes more money, I do see him change but it is still hard to have a conversation with Seth about spending money. I love that we balance each other out. I love that Kim and Penn talk about spending money in alignment with our values. Do we value clothes? Do we value a new purse? Do we value a pool? Do we value a new house or new car? Do we value travel? What do we value and that’s where we should spend our money. When we spend money on things that we don’t value is where it goes south. I think that this will help Seth and I talk about money because we can evaluate if it’s in alignment with our values. I laughed when I told Seth that I bought a knock off hair tool for $60. Not a bad price to me when the real one is $600. Seth was like, “You already have so many hair tools.” I explained to him that this one should be a lot better and that my job required me to be on camera. I told him that buying things like hair tools and make up were of value to me to make me look nice. You may roll your eyes, but I think he understood better. I know that I can restrain myself more often. I think as the years go on, we meet more in the middle on most topics including money.

I think the most helpful part of the book was the section on understanding each others needs. I love that they talk about understanding why each other wants to do something. Kim didn’t understand Penn’s need to go play tennis with the guys and he had to explain it to her. I don’t always understand Seth’s needs. I have noticed that Seth needs: To learn and grow. To have a lot of hobbies. To travel to seminars. To read books. To have down time. Instead of getting upset about something, I need to seek to understand. When I tell you anything like that, I am not going to claim to ever be perfect. I won’t always seek to understand. I was however inspired by Kim and Penn to keep trying to understand what Seth needs.

I want to tell you that you can never make your partner feel loved and appreciated enough. I will thank Seth for going to work today. I will thank Seth for driving Max to soccer. I will thank him for doing the dishes. I will thank him if he rubs my feet. I will thank him for charging my phone. We cannot say thank you enough. I never want to take anything he does for granted. I appreciate him kissing me, taking the garbage out, driving Max to school, cleaning the cat litter…. I don’t expect him to do any of that. I am very thankful for feeling like I have a partner in this crazy wonderful life. Kim and Penn learned this from their Pastor, and this is one of the greatest lessons in marriage and in life. You can never say, “I love you and thank you,” enough.

Let’s end with my favorite line from the book about treating your partner like a stranger. Would you freak out on a stranger and yell at them? Do you give strangers eye contact and smile? Are you polite? Do you give your spouse eye contact when they walk in a room? Do you smile at them? We are very cordial to strangers. I’m even thinking about how I drive. I take turns with strangers at pick up and smile and let people go ahead of me. I ask the person at check out how their day was? I tell people all the time that I love their nails (I’m a little nail obsessed). I treat strangers so kindly. My spouse deserves my best. They deserve us treating them with manners and kindness. Don’t save it for strangers.

I hope that you took something away from this to improve your marriage I would love to hear your take away. Seth and I have had 17 years to work on our relationship. I can’t wait to see how we improve in the next 17 years. Seth was just giving me praise the other day that he is so impressed with how much I’ve changed. I need to tell him the same thing. Go tell your spouse that you love and appreciate them.

Laughing, Loving, Learning,

Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R

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