In my nineteen years at home with mom and dad I never saw them argue. If my parents fought at all it must have happened behind closed doors.
So when Becky and I had our first fight, while we were still dating, I said and did whatever would make it stop. I said I was wrong but I didn’t believe that was true. I thought if we fought she wouldn’t love me. I thought peace was a lack of conflict, not the hard won result of real resolution.
Over the years, Becky taught me how to make genuine peace. She assured me that mistakes will be made, disagreements will happen. That friction is inevitable but not fatal. That love outlasts. That she would never abandon or punish me. And, in the safety of her affirmations, in the ring of our shared commitment, she’s fought with me for the last nineteen years.
I’m quite good at it now. And I want my kids to be too.
I don’t want them to be passive aggressive. To lock themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out. To withhold affection or conversation until they get their way. To scream or threaten, call names, roll eyes, sling sarcasm, storm out, cave in, endure abuse or strike back.
I want my kids to become adults who fight well.
I want them to be peace makers. Makers. People who roll up their sleeves lower their voices and do the hard work of reconciliation.
So, sometimes, when it’s appropriate, when I trust myself to handle the responsibility, I argue with my wife in front of our kids. And with the insurance adjuster who went back on his word. And with the waitress who charged me for one too many kids meals.
I stay calm.
I stop everything else I’m doing, make eye contact and…
I don’t roll my eyes. Or sigh. Or make light. Or walk away.
I tell my wife what I hear her saying and ask her if I’m understanding correctly.
I admit when I’ve made a mistake and say “I’m sorry.” And mean it.
If there’s something I can do to make things better, I offer.
We often find a third way that’s neither hers nor mine.
Sometimes I disagree. Sometimes I feel wronged or misunderstood or hurt and I say so. Sometimes it takes a while to make peace.
Always, it happens though. Eventually. Always forgiveness is given and spoken, along with “thank you” and “I love you.”
Afterward, we don’t sulk in silence for the rest of the day. I don’t sleep on the couch that night. We move on.
The kids watch us, listening, learning.
My nine year-old had a friend over the other day. They were playing when the friend started yelling at my son. I began to rush in to make sure no punches were being thrown but stopped in the hallway outside his room when I heard him saying, “I don’t understand why you’re yelling; can you explain it to me?”
Well fought, son.
I’m not perfect. Some days I’m too tired to argue well so my spine goes mushy and I broker a counterfeit peace with my silence. Other times I’m too impatient for the process so I raise my voice and try to bully to get my way. But I married a dedicated teacher. I’m learning.
And on good days, when I feel I’m up to it, I fight in front of my kids so they can learn too.
This post was first published in February 2012.