What Happened When A 'Big Picture' Issue Threatened Our Marriage

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
Getty | fizkes

My husband and I rarely get into disagreements. There are few things that will make either of us raise our voice or even get an attitude about. It’s not because we’re perfect and never do anything wrong, because we’re not, and we do. In fact, there were a few tense situations while we were still dating and again at the beginning of our marriage that almost broke us completely. Since we vowed to stay together forever, we used those incidents to learn and grow from.

I knew we had to figure things out when my husband brought up the big D. He wasn’t threatening divorce, or asking for one, but still, the fact that it even came up during a disagreement was a big wake-up call for me. Tiny arguments turn into big arguments, and the next thing you know, we’re trying to figure out who gets the kids on Christmas. I didn’t want that for us.

The turning point for us came during a heated discussion about money. My husband and I were talking about my habit of loaning money to others without checking in with him first. A few times I ran out of cash and had to pull from our savings or use his stash because I’d given all of mine away. Like many couples, money was (and still is, at times) one of our most pressing issues. Money stuff stresses my husband out so much. To me, it’s usually just not that big of a deal. That night, though, when we were having our heated conversation, and he cited research showing that many marriages end in divorce over money, I realized we had a big problem.

When you’re married, there are some things you just learn to live with. For instance, I really wish my guy would not smack when he chews. I also would love for him to wash the pots instead of putting them in the sink to “soak.” Those are little issues, though. The big picture stuff, fundamental issues that can make or break a marriage — like finances or parenting or religion — that’s where I choose to devote my energy. When it comes to resolving disagreements about big picture stuff, I put in work.

Communication is important.

Before we were able to handle any of our issues, big or small, it was important to learn how my husband and I communicate best with each other. Early in my marriage, I read “The 5 Love Languages.” I learned that my husband’s love language was words of affirmation, so when we have disagreements, I am extremely aware of the words and phrases I use. If he feels attacked, he shuts down, and our issue doesn’t get resolved.

Anitra A. is also affirmed by words, so when her husband’s ex was disparaging her and he ignored it, she felt hurt. She wanted him to respond to his ex, but didn’t quite know how to tell him. Blended families are one of those big picture issues that often causes tension in marriages. Fortunately Anitra discovered the Love Languages, and was able to start articulating what she needed to feel loved and listened to.

“Love Languages are a key to seeing yourself and the person with whom you’re in a relationship at the core of who they really are,” she said. “Knowing your own and your spouse’s Love Language helps to prevent major disagreements. If my husband had known how much words meant to me, he may have taken a different approach.”

Compromise is necessary.

The best thing I did for my relationship was to surround myself with others who cherish their marriages as much as I do. My friend Pamela supports a big group of us, answering questions and giving advice in a private Facebook group. Pamela always encourages us to be clear about what our issues are before we bring them up to our partners. “You need to have the discussion in stages,” Pamela says. “Only address the things that are pertinent now and bring up the other stuff when they’re important.”

When I stopped trying to lay all of my issues out in one conversation with my husband, we actually started to resolve our problems. When we’re talking about money, we’re talking about money. If I’m asking him to help out with the kids more, that’s not the time to bring up wanting to move to a new house. One problem at a time. That’s it.

Once we start the discussion, if the conversation feels like it’s getting too heated and we’re starting to get defensive, we back away from it. We’ll give each other some space to cool down, and come back to it when we can approach it with level heads again. Amiyrah and her husband do the same thing. “When we can’t come to an agreement, we set an actual date and revisit it later,” she said. “This gives each of us time to digest what was said in the conversation, and come into the next conversation with a better understanding of why the other spouse feels so passionate about their stance.”

Sometimes we don’t find a resolution.

Remember when I said my husband and I aren’t perfect? Well, there have been times when we haven’t been able to come to a resolution at all. There was one time when we had different thoughts about the neighborhood we should move into. Another time he and I were trying to determine the future of our family business. In both of those situations, we weren’t on the same page at all. After going back and forth for what seemed like forever, we finally had to agree to let the issues sit. We agreed not to agree, but also to not move forward at all until we figured out a solution that worked best for the both of us.

My friend Katherine recently gave me some advice for how to deal when we come to a stalemate. “Have clarifying conversations,” she said. “Ask ‘how are we going to move forward from this together?’ Find out what each of your requirements are to move forward and work on that before you come back to the issue.”

So, that’s our secret. Communication. Compromise. And sometimes we just let it go. Anitra summed it up best when she said, “At the end of the day , knowing what’s important and impactful to your spouse and actively working toward meeting those needs is the best way to avoid major disagreement.”

We strive to give each other what we need. And to make it work, no matter what it takes.

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