Getting past black and white

Photo by Cameron LeeWhat do couples argue about?  The top three issues on most lists are money, sex, and then either children or chores.

Somewhere way, way down the list is whether they should have analog or digital clocks (okay, maybe way, way, way down).  But even that seemingly innocuous issue can become a serious bone of contention if a couple can’t get past black vs. white ways of framing the argument.

This was an actual concern for a couple I spoke with recently.  She firmly disliked digital clocks, preferring the old-fashioned kind with hands.  With equal conviction, he declaimed against analog.  They teased each other about it good-naturedly, realizing that the issue itself seemed trite.  Still, the impasse bothered them.

A little further discussion, however, revealed an important difference.  She didn’t like the way digital clocks look, while he didn’t like the way analog clocks sound–it was the constant tick, tick, tick that drove him crazy.

“You know,” I said casually, “there are analog clocks that don’t tick.”  I know this because I also find loudly ticking clocks annoying, and some time ago went looking for a solution.

A non-digital clock that doesn’t tick???  They stopped.  They stared at me.  Then they turned and looked at each other, as if to say, “Can this really be true?”

Problem solved.  If only it could always be that easy.

There won’t be a clear-cut and mutually acceptable solution to every marital argument (not in real life).  But what’s important for the long-term health of the relationship is not finding the answer, but approaching the problem itself as a team.

Digital vs. analog.  It sounds like a black-or-white choice: What I want and what you want are complete opposites!  Too often, we approach issues as a tug-of-war: somebody wins, and somebody loses or resentfully gives in.

What’s needed instead is for him to listen compassionately enough to get to the place of saying: I don’t completely understand why you don’t like how digital clocks look, but I accept the fact that you don’t, and I don’t think you’re crazy.  For her, the destination is: Oh, I see.  It’s about the ticking.  I get how that could be annoying.  The point is for the two of them to be on the same side of the issue, opening the way for them to be curious together about a solution–is there a way to honor both our needs?

Bottom line: it’s that kind of unity that makes a marriage, even if a couple can’t find a practical solution for every disagreement.

2 thoughts on “Getting past black and white

  1. Being understood and continuing to be valued–even when we disagree–makes unity possible. Furthermore, it’s not just in marriage this is true.

Comments are closed.