Marriages are rarely broken by a major issue. In fact, more people recover from affairs and hidden debt scandals than you’d expect (there are also more hidden debt scandals than you’d expect where one person builds thousands of dollars of debt behind their partner’s back). Instead, what kills most relationships is the petty little fights. If you asked what ended things and the divorcee was honest, they’d say, “We had fights, lots of fights… over nothing!” Petty little moments fester, multiply, and grow into giant explosive fights and/or days without talking. The biggest fights start with a spark and suddenly tangents and rants fire up with random details that seem important in the moment (when they’re not) that are dug up and thrown back and forth. Sparks can be as insignificant as “They left stubble in the sink. I hate that!” “Why do you chew so loudly?” “Why are you always picking at my face?” “Why do you insist on popping my back pimples?” or “You’re complaining about that same person/thing again? Do something about it or get over it!” “Why do you make everything so dramatic?” These are all complaints I’ve heard from frustrated people. My wife and I have our own hot button issue we have to be careful about. After my wife and I got married, I either started mumbling or my wife went semi deaf because she constantly has no idea what I’m saying and I have to regularly repeat myself, which leads to her getting super annoyed with me – you can probably guess I’m not thrilled with this either, but my response is more of twitch. Young and in love people don’t get this: “Why would you fight over something so small? You should just kiss and make up.” Ah, the early days of a relationship when you’re at your best and too horny to be petty. I’ve been with my wife fourteen years (far from the honeymoon days) and have two daughters who help kill the horniness almost as much as my oldness – growing up is so much fun. I used to wonder why there’s the term “grumpy old men,” and now I get it. That’s not an insult. It’s a rite of passage, and I’m on my way (written half jokingly).
Here’s a good example of a petty fight situation:
At the beginning of the Covid isolation time (I think that was like five years ago now), my wife pointed out there was a puddle in the basement. Considering we had three floods in the basement last summer, that wasn’t a happy moment. Fortunately it was just a puddle and that puddle wasn’t urine… this time. My daughter was starting her potty training at that time and often showed us that she preferred to use the floor than the potty, but she wasn’t in the basement, so it wasn’t her. It also wasn’t my wife – I had to check. It turned out to be water and it was dripping from our pot light – an object not known for being a tap. Water dripping from your ceiling is never a good thing, but from the little I know, electricity and water get along like a bucket of cheese and someone who’s lactose intolerant. I ended up cutting a good sized hole in the ceiling to follow the leak, and I found the source… a week later; I’m a little slow and the leak was a strange one. Unfortunately, while cutting the ceiling drywall, I clipped a wire. With isolating ourselves like good citizens because of the virus, it was months before we were finally comfortable to have an electrician come to the house, and as soon it was fixed, I was patching the hole. I was in a rush, not just because I’m uptight (I can admit it), but because the hole was visible during my video calls, so for the four months we’d been in isolation, I’d been apologizing to my clients for the hole in the ceiling. The one morning I was anxious to work on the spot, but my wife had other plans. I was swamped with clients all week, so I had limited availability to work on the patch, and the morning I was ready to work on it, my wife was busy – she also knew she had limited time because of my work schedule. Before I realized it, I was watching our baby and two year old while she vacuumed and did laundry (for the record, I normally do the vacuuming; I’m a modern man). To me, both those jobs were unnecessary at that time (because they were). The priority should’ve been fixing the hole… at least to me; my wife had other ideas. After she vacuumed the main floor and upstairs, she left to do more laundry stuff, so I quickly emptied and cleaned up the vacuum in order to get to my job as soon as she got upstairs and could watch the girls. When she was done the laundry, she was very annoyed that the vacuum was put away because she had it in her mind she had to do the basement where I work, but I said, “It’s fine because I’m about to make a giant mess.” My wife was still annoyed I interrupted her plans while I was annoyed with her for making me wait for her to do what she wanted. While sanding the ceiling, I found myself getting angrier as the voice in my head was muttering “She doesn’t understand you… She only cares about herself… She doesn’t care about the ceiling getting fixed and for me to look professional… I have virtually no time this week and when I do have a moment she makes me wait for her… it’s always about her…” My mind was going full tilt. I then had the thought, “My priority doesn’t matter to her because she has her own priorities…” and that’s when it hit me: why are my priorities any more important than hers? I’m being petty. I was essentially angry at my wife for having a different priority than I did. It’s not like she was watching TV or playing video games. Her priority was to do household work. Granted, vacuuming day wasn’t necessary for another couple days according to my calendar (I said I was uptight), but to her it was important. Not only is my wife allowed a different priority, I never communicated what I wanted to do that morning, so I had no right being upset. I just assumed I could do what I wanted even though my wife was spending long hours with our daughters while I worked. At the same time, she was just as guilty because she didn’t communicate her plans either; she was just quicker to get started on her priority. Fortunately, I never said anything to her and I was able to process it on my own (the one thing I did right) and my wife didn’t say anything either, but that moment could’ve easily been a blow up. We were both a bit tired and irritable to begin with, so the ingredients were there to have a massive fight over pretty much nothing.
In this situation, both of us were like little kids – I want it my way and I want it now! Fortunately, by biting our tongues and not sparking the fire, we were able to move past that moment and get to better spots individually and as a couple. Hopefully next time I’ll be quicker to communicate to prevent a problem or catch myself for being petty sooner, but if not, as long as we both bite our tongues and take a moment to process things, we’ll still avoid an unnecessary petty fight.
Bonus: Some people might accuse my wife and I of sweeping the problem under the carpet because we didn’t talk about it after. We could’ve potentially given one sentence to summarize our feelings, but in this case, we were both really just being petty, so I only saw this as something that could lead to a potential fight. Sometimes it’s best not to talk about it with the person who’s upset us.
This week may you prevent unnecessary fights.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)