My wife and I had a huge fight the other day. It was about money. To the tune of something around $38.20. You’re right, it sounds pretty stupid. But that knock-down-drag-out came on the heels of everyday life with three kids under the age of two (you do the math), a four-day hospital stay with my two-year-old daughter (newly diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic), and impending pressure from a job change and a cross-state-lines move. Needless to say, we have a few irons in the fire.
After hours of uncomfortable silence, we apologized. And as all healthfully married couples do after a huge fight, we spent time intimately reconnecting. Sex? Hell no, too tired for that. We watched TV.
What was supposed to be a light-hearted, humorous take on current events from a comedian we both enjoy turned into school. I needed to learn an important lesson: Nobody likes politicians. So don’t be one. At work. With your friends. And especially, at home.
On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver was exposing the way politicians use manipulation to stay in power. It was all fun and games until I realized I do the same thing when I fight with my wife. In fact, I’m pretty sure God was talking to me in that moment, using the wit and humor of a British comedian to make sure I didn’t miss a valuable lesson. (Kudos to God for having good taste in television, am I right?)
Let’s face it, politics sucks. I don’t want to emulate anything I see from seats of power in Washington, D.C — especially around my impressionable young children and the woman who wears the wedding band I gave her. I owe them better than that.
I hate to be convicted alone. So why don’t you join me? Here are three ways you may be fighting dirty with the one you love.
Delegitimizing your spouse
“You have no right to feel that way!” “How dare you think that about me!” “Stop complaining so much, you don’t know how good you have it!”
Ever used any of those phrases in the heat of the moment? Good, then I’m not alone. To delegitimize your spouse is to say their feelings are invalid; their concerns are unwarranted; their perspective is off; their understanding is wrong.
When I tore into my wife about her “extravagant” spending, she felt attacked. I honestly wasn’t trying to do that. But when my mood turned on a dime and I started throwing accusations, that’s what she felt. And she expressed that feeling.
So when I adamantly (read: with shouts and angry hand gestures) communicated that I wasn’t attacking her and she shouldn’t feel that way — she didn’t believe me, and I belittled her perspective. And after that, the conversation was doomed.
Politicians do this night and day. The concerns of the other party are always ridiculous, illegitimate, completely off-base. We know that’s not true, right? Surely we can be better than that.
Please understand this — you can legitimize your spouse without agreeing with them. It’s an art form. But you can learn to do it.
How should I have responded? With something along the lines of “My reaction sounds like I’m attacking you? I’m really sorry. That’s honestly not what I’m trying to do. Can I have another chance to try and express myself?”
Help your spouse know you believe their perspective is valid, even when you don’t agree with them. It’ll do wonders. Like less TV… and more sex.
“Yeah? Well what about last month — you did the exact same thing!” “My mother?! What about your mother?” “I forget to take out the trash? What about the fact you still haven’t scheduled vacation?”
Whataboutism is the art of deflection. When caught in a mistake, a shortcoming, a disappointment, throw the blame back onto the other person. Make sure they don’t forget the times they let you down. You’re not as bad a person as they are.
In politics, when a party doesn’t hold to their promises, they remind the public about the opposite party’s shortcomings. And in arguments with spouses, whataboutism might look like bringing up the fact that your spouse was gone an hour longer than you expected, when the original conversation started around the topic of spending $38 dollars and change.
Three things I’ve learned about whataboutism: (a) it never goes over well, (b) it makes you look like an unforgiving jerkface, and © it derails the conversation.
How about this for a revelation: your spouse is going to hurt you. They will let you down, ignore your feelings, forget something very important to you, and use words that wound. But to love is to forgive those moments — each and every one of them.
Jumping onto the Whataboutism train is choosing to remember and relive the moments when your spouse wasn’t at their best. It’s anti-forgiveness, and will never lead to reconciliation or growth.
Beware overcorrecting too much in the other direction. Choosing not to engage whataboutism doesn’t give you an out to ignore times when your spouse has hurt you. They can’t be expected to live up to an expectation you’ve never expressed, or to know that a certain action or phrase hurts you if you’ve never been vulnerable enough to tell them exactly how it makes you feel.
Denying whataboutism isn’t about burying your feelings, but about choosing not to throw your spouse’s dirty laundry back at them. And nobody — I mean, nobody — likes being hit in the head with dirty underwear.
In fairy tales, trolls are nasty little creatures living under bridges. In politics, trolls say things just to make the other party angry. And in your home, trolls are out for one thing: blood.
In fairy tales, in politics and in your home, it’s a universal truth: no one likes trolls. So don’t be one.
A snappy comeback just before slamming the door and walking out; a nasty comment just before the silent treatment; a text you know will turn the knife. It’s real time trolling. And it does nothing — nothing — for you, your spouse, or your understanding of each other.
Trolls build walls, and walls only divide.
I’m bad at the comeback. I can’t think on my feet fast enough. But even if you don’t say it, you can still be trolling in your mind. When the perfect one-liner comes to you thirty minutes later and you’re dying for a chance to use it — that’s trolling — and it’s just as damaging. Because those inward troll moments only serve to feed your fire of anger and frustration.
Outward trolling can manipulate your spouse, but inward trolling can manipulate you into believing lies about the character of the person you’ve chosen to walk through life alongside. Both are nasty. Both are toxic. And both should stay under the bridge where they belong.
You’ve gotten this far, and you’re probably feeling one of two things: (a) “Crap, I’m a dirty fighter and manipulator” or (b) “My spouse really needs to read this.”
If you’re in camp A, there is hope. If you’re in camp B, you need to read the article again. #whataboutism
For those like me, who have used arguments and fights with spouses as an opportunity to manipulate and wound, God covered this well before he spoke through John Oliver. You may know it as the “Golden Rule,” but it’s actually a teaching from Jesus. And it’s simultaneously incredibly simple and exceedingly profound.
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
It really is as simple as that. If you don’t want to be delegitimized by your spouse, don’t do that to them. If you don’t appreciate being hit with whataboutism in the midst of an argument, don’t you dare use that tactic. If trolling makes your blood boil, stop giving yourself clearance to act like one.
How else might this “Golden Rule” look in the midst of a marital conflict?
It means, if you’ve been hurt by your spouse, going to them first. Not to your group text with your friends. Not to your parents. And for the love, not to Facebook. Ever.
It means taking your hurt to them calmly and honestly. Go for the whole truth, even if it’s painful. Not as a way to injure them or to make them feel your pain, but to show them the gravity of their actions. In many cases, this frank conversation is all it takes. Communication really is everything. And if all goes well, you’ve established trust, understanding, and a greater level of intimacy in your relationship.
It means, if your spouse doesn’t accept your hurts, that you don’t give up. Perhaps it’s time to seek the wisdom of a trusted mentor or licensed counselor. But make this decision, and act on it, together. There are times when an outside perspective is necessary — and your marriage is absolutely worth it.
You weren’t born knowing how to ride a bike, throw a baseball, or make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich (it’s all about adding red pepper flakes to the bread). You learned through practice. Then why would we assume knowing how to communicate and practice conflict is something we don’t have to work at? It absolutely is a skill that requires practice to master. And it’s worth the effort.
Stop delegitimizing your spouse. Stop using whataboutism. Stop trolling. The benefits to your relationship will be astronomical — worth much more than $38.20.