At this point in our marriage, big fights don’t happen that much anymore. They had their time and served their purpose after having kids. All of life was turned upside down for a few years there. Night was day, day was day, and everything reeked of various ointments and creams when it didn’t stink to high heaven as yet another blowout had temporarily decreased the resale value of our home.
Back then, the pent-up frustration, the lack of confidence that we were doing anything right, and our general stir-craziness left us prone to monstrous behavior. Not to worry—it was all to be expected. We apologized and owned up to our various failures. It was good to do, actually. It made us able to more quickly process our disagreements and support one another as we embarked on the glorious journey of parenthood.
Nowadays we don’t fight fight anymore—not unless it’s a truly big issue—but that isn’t to say we don’t bicker. There are whole weeks in which if it weren’t for bickering we’d have virtually no conversation whatsoever. It’s true. It’s balanced by stretches of time when we can’t keep our hands or mouths off each other. Yeah, you read that right. My wife is sexy, and she’s kind enough to look past my classic “sitter’s body” and occasionally have sex with me.
Anyway, bickering is not fighting; it’s disagreeing. In our case, and at this time in our lives, it’s about things like how we’re going to coordinate care for our oldest next year when he’s in kindergarten and we are both at work, whether or not to get pizza, or a thousand issues around money. We have learned to shake off perceived slights and mildly cutting comments like pros. As a result, we both afford the other the catharsis of allowing ourselves to be mocked. Then we dance around each other for the evening.
Turns out this is valuable time—time when we don’t have to be on the couch because the other wants to watch an episode of Orange Is the New Black, and we don’t want to miss it or make them feel guilty for watching it without us.
Be it the productiveness of the free time resulting from your temporary need for space, or the direct benefits one actually draws from bickering, there are lots of reasons why bickering doesn’t have to be bad.
1. It’s Good for You
It feels awful at times. It’s a sinking feeling when you see how far apart you and your spouse are on things as simple as how to load a dishwasher. But by putting it out there and having your say, you are reminding each other (and yourself) that you are two different people and with unique perspectives. Intellectually, we all get this, but in the moment, it can be hard to take. So getting the differences out in the open is the first step to accepting them. And who knows, if you get good enough at bickering, you may actually stumble upon the occasional thing you might choose to do differently in the future (maybe).
2. It Keeps Your Relationship ‘In Shape’
One of the key differences between people who are in shape and people who are not is “recovery time.” This is how quickly your body returns to a normal resting state. The more one exercises, the more swiftly their body can recover. Well, it’s the same thing with your relationship. It’s a process. It seems like every disagreement early on leads to battles that cause real damage. But after years of little spats and a brief time getting some weekly help early on, my wife and I are now able to disagree after dinner and be laughing by the time the dishes are done. The only way to improve upon your bickering is to bicker and then learn from your mistakes.
It’s basic and a thing you already do constantly, but there’s just something extra-attentive and vigorous about cleaning when you are angry. My wife and I can’t be the only ones who, through clenched jaws, clean messes the other made, in essence, anger-cleaning at each other, can we?
4. Catch Up on Shows You Haven’t Seen in Forever
It’s not at all a bad thing that you tend to stay in that fairly narrow patch of entertainment that manages to straddle each of your tastes. But from time to time, it’s good to have the chance to indulge in a night of programming guaranteed to make your partner know without a shadow of a doubt that you really don’t care what they want to watch. I can’t speak for other couples, but my wife and I both have ways of signaling we could use a little “me” time using nothing more than our positioning on the couch and a few specific selections from Netflix. Exercise this option from time to time.
5. Shop Online
You know, for all those things you know you can buy but your spouse thinks are frivolous purchases. Also, don’t just think computer or phone here. I once used my mild, low-level frustration to approve for myself the purchase of the “sports package” all through the TV remote. To this day, I still have NFL RedZone and the MLB Network—not that I ever have time to watch them.
6. Bicker Nap
Time it right and you could get a full night’s sleep out of it. A rare treat for us parents of little ones. People say not to go to bed angry, and to some degree, that seems right. That said, going to bed annoyed is sometimes exactly what the doctor ordered. Even a tiny catnap can improve your perspective.
7. It Will Give You Time for a Drink
A classic move. I don’t recommend it often, and always stop at the first sign that your emotions are amping up rather than tamping down.
8. Quality Alone Time in the Bathroom with Netflix
This is an awesome thing to do—bickering or not. Bickering just allows you to watch a movie rather than a sitcom.
9. Guilt-Free Hours Spent Staring at Your Phone
It doesn’t really look any different than the guilt-full kind, but it feels a ton more justifiable.
Learning to fight well is one of the hardest parts of marriage and one of the most vital skills any couple can have. It’s not that fighting is fun, it’s that it’s unavoidable at times. Best you have some practice time, and bickering is perfect for that.