From the outside, they didn’t seem like a couple on the verge of divorce.
The split had come as a shock to him, as he hadn’t seen any sign of trouble in their relationship:
But most of what I saw was through Facebook: photos of them together, smiling, doing couple things.
“You both seemed fine.” I said. “Were you two fighting behind closed doors, or something?”
As surprised as Edwards had been by the news of the divorce, he was even less prepared for his friend’s answer:
“I wish we fought. That would’ve showed investment. We never argued. We were like business partners that weren’t invested enough to argue. Arguing would’ve showed we still cared.”
This wasn’t Edwards’ first encounter with divorce. He remembers the arguments that came before his parents’ divorce. But his friend’s words brought back another memory: the “eerie weighty silence” that reigned when his dad came home and announced he was leaving.
Looking back, Edwards wondered whether that heavy “church quiet” on the night his father left was really “the sound of giving up.”
Still, conventional wisdom and instinct both say that arguing is hard on relationships. And that’s why Edwards persisted, telling his friend it’s hard to think of arguing as a good thing. But she had a different perspective on what the absence of arguments can mean:
“I’m sure arguing too much can be bad,” she said. “But for us it was silence. We just weren’t invested enough to fight.”
Like most married couples, Edwards and his wife fight. It’s not often, but when fights occur, he hates it. Edwards wrote:
I hate it when my wife slams the bedroom door. I hate that our fights are always over something that seems like a big deal at the time, but looking back, it was always something that would’ve been better solved through conversation, like how to get the kids to do their homework, or why we over spent the budget this month.
Up until now, Edwards couldn’t help but wonder if their arguments were a sign of trouble, if a particular fight could be “the first step on a long road to divorce.”
After hearing his friend’s perspective, however, he wonders if those arguments might be a sign of something good.
Looking back at their first fights as a married couple, Edwards remembers fights over small things, like loading the dishwasher. Now, he views those long-ago arguments as the catalyst for change, something they needed to go through:
We needed to call each other out, and then humble ourselves and change. It was a good thing.
Of course, it’s hard to determine exactly when constructive growth simply becomes “arguing too much.” Edwards says there’s no question that too much fighting can be bad for a marriage, especially when it leads to emotional or physical abuse.
At the same time, couples should rid themselves of the idea that arguments mean something’s amiss. He wrote:
[W]hat I can say is that there is something about an argument that shows two people invested enough in a relationship to try and make it work.
In the midst of a marital fight, it can be hard to remember there’s such a thing as a “good” argument. But it can be a comfort afterwards. Rather than wondering what might be going wrong, you can ponder what’s going right instead. Edwards concluded:
“So next time you are in an argument with your spouse that ends in compromise and growth, realize that you might be doing something right.”
He added: “Realize that you still love each other enough to make things better.”