“Don’t swallow what you can’t digest.” No, this is not medical advice from your dentist. This is actually marriage advice, said in the name of Rabbi Pincus. Yes, it’s good to let things go. It is wise not to sweat the small stuff. The more you can ignore, the better.
But what if you can’t ignore it? What if instead of forgetting about it, you are actually building resentment? And every new, irritating act stokes the flames?
We have to be realistic. We have to know ourselves. There are some things we really can ignore – toilet seats, toothpaste caps, laundry on the floor (maybe)… And there are some things that we need to address – issues about child-raising, about communication, about work-home balance – to name a few. And once in a while a situation arises where you just can’t let it go. You feel ignored or invalidated. You feel unheard.
Under these circumstances you can’t swallow it because it will rise to the surface again (let’s now apply the eating analogy here) and when it does, it will probably be very unpleasant. When situations are allowed to fester, they end up boiling over.
I have a friend who tries very hard to be a good wife. Although there are some challenges in her marriage (as in everyone’s!), she tries not to focus on them. Her husband is busy and working hard and she doesn’t want to bother him with her (so-called) petty concerns. Maybe when they go away on vacation in a few months and he is more relaxed…
It sounds like a good strategy; she sounds like a thoughtful wife. And it would be a good strategy – if it worked. But it doesn’t. Instead what happens is that the issues continue to pile on top of one another, she continues to hold it in and get more and more frustrated until finally she explodes. They have a knock down, drag ‘em, screaming fight. And neither party feels good about themselves afterwards.
It would have been much better if she would have addressed the issues as they arose. There would have been much less heat and emotion in them. “I understand that you are very tired after a long day of work. I try to be respectful and give you space. But when you have an animated conversation with your co-worker after being too exhausted to speak to me, I feel hurt. What should we do about this?”
She wouldn’t have lost her temper; she wouldn’t have mounted a vicious attack.
A good marriage isn’t conflict-free.
Every marriage has its challenges. Two people living together are bound to have conflict. Expecting a marriage without disagreement is naïve and unrealistic. And, more importantly, it doesn’t matter if you disagree. What matters is how you resolve it. What matters is that there is a tone of mutual respect. What matters is that you are able to calmly and patiently come to a mutually acceptable solution. What matters is that you listen to each other and hear their side. What matters is that you politely and respectfully state your opinion – and your frustrations – and not just allow frustration to simmer within.
We want to be good wives. So we try to swallow our concerns and frustrations. But we hurt our marriages more when they boil over than we do through trying to discuss them when they occur. A good marriage isn’t conflict-free. A good wife doesn’t have to (always) bite her tongue. Honestly and mutual respect and polite discourse are the key to resolving issues. Self-righteous martyrdom may seem at times to be the more appealing route, but it’s a path with no winners.
Make yourselves coffee or pour yourselves wine, put out some cookies, pull up two comfortable chairs and settle in for a thoughtful and caring conversation. “Sweetheart, there’s something important to me that I’d like to discuss with you...” It will be hard to resist.