If you’re simply fighting with your girlfriend or wife, you don’t know what real fighting is. The type of fight when you are focused on the original source of your argument is a lightweight argument, one which can be resolved with relative ease. But when you and your partner elevate the fighting to a new level, in which the original subject of the argument deviates into newer, more toxic, more hostile territories, so much so that you can't even remember the original spark behind the acrimony, it’s called meta-fighting.
Meta-fighting is when you begin to argue about how you are arguing about the argument. You are bickering about style, tone, and methodology. And this argument, this meta-fight, about how you deliver your argument also spawns an argument about how you are scrutinizing and judging the analysis of the style of the argument over a topic that you most likely have forgotten, the original topic being obscured by layers and layers of analysis about the analysis about the analysis about the methodology of your arguing. By this time, the subject behind the original argument is beside the point. It’s as if the original controversy or hot-button was simply a springboard to vent deeper issues about your relationship.
Perhaps the next point is obvious: When you recognize that you are in the middle of a meta-fight, it’s important to stop it as soon as possible because the damage to your relationship can be beyond your understanding and control. So let us be clear. When you catch yourself in the middle of a meta-fight, you need to go into Damage Control Mode. Here’s what you do:
Abruptly stop arguing, clear your throat, and say you don’t feel well. Then disappear into the bathroom for at least a half hour and be resolved not to bring up the fight upon exiting your “cool-off cubicle.” Apologize for “getting carried away” and start cooking a meal, preferably comfort food. Start chopping onions, dicing carrots, peeling potatoes, and in general keep busy and pretend to be absorbed by your new task so that you don’t get sucked back into the meta-fight.
If you do not know how to cook, take on a outdoor or indoor project you’ve been putting off. Wash windows, clean the garage, vacuum, anything to distract both of you from the meta-argument.
Be adamant about not getting sucked back into the meta-argument. Remember this: A meta-argument is a black hole, a bottomless pit of pain, hurt, and suffering from which sometimes there is no return. So be warned. If you must fight with you’re partner, that is fine. But no meta-fighting, not ever.
I know this sounds
unfair, making my wife Carrie and our dog Gretchen, a forty-pound Finnish
Spitz, cram themselves on one-third of the bed while I splay myself on the
other two-thirds, but this isn’t about me being a bed hog. This is about Carrie
and Gretchen being protected from my flailing arms during my nightmares.
horrific dreams tend to focus on Burt Lahr in his role as the Cowardly Lion.
Since childhood, I have never been capable of looking at the Cowardly Lion
directly in the eyes. Framed with forlorn pouches beneath and crenellated brows
above, those eye slits are especially suggestive of Satan or some other
tormented demon. The bald pate and ruffled hair, tied in parts with ribbons to
mock the pampered grooming of a Shih-Tzu or some other cuddly lapdog, only add
to the terror. Then there are Bert Lahr’s growls, not the feral sounds of a
lion but of a soul writhing and languishing in hell.
suffer my Cowardly Lion nightmares, Burt Lahr will chase me, getting closer and
closer, until I wake myself up with my own growls that sound, eerily, like his.
Carrie and Gretchen often endure my moving violently in bed while I growl,
louder and louder, until Carrie or the barking Gretchen wakes me from my night
these Cowardly Lion dreams are especially bad and after awakening I feel an
evil presence in the room and must turn the light on and watch TV for a while
until I sense that the evil presence has departed. I have another measure that
helps drown out the evil presence and this leads us to my next rule.
insomnia necessitates another consideration. Let’s call it The
Twenty-Minute-Window Rule. What this means is that after my cereal, my reading,
and the assimilation of my sublingual melatonin lozenge, I am sleepy for
roughly twenty minutes. This is the only opportunity I have to get to sleep. If
for any reason I am agitated and do not fall asleep during this Twenty-Minute
Window, I am, once again, screwed. Therefore, it is imperative that my wife leave
me alone during the Twenty-Minute Window.
Now many readers
will look at the first four rules and say really they are all the same and can
be boiled down to one rule, which is that I need quiet. Why, then, have I
broken them down into four separate rules? The answer is simple. Clarity. It is
my duty as my wife’s husband to provide clarity to my rules. Secondly, I must
provide justification. If I arbitrarily dish out a bunch of rules with no
rationale than I am no better than a tyrant or a despot and for me to become
such a god-awful thing, dear readers, is the least of my wishes.
As I fulfill my
nightly reading goal and my wife wishes to talk to me at this time, she is more
than free to do so. However, it must be stipulated that she must speak in a
soft voice. There can be no commotion, no raising thorny, controversial issues,
no raucous, no uncontrollable laughter, as she is sometimes prone to doing in a
way that frequently hurts my eardrums.
It’s not that I
don’t treasure my wife’s moments of intense engagement, hilarity and
self-abandonment. It’s just that I am a chronic insomniac and a vital part of
my sleeping strategy is to lower the volume
before bedtime. Everything needs to get nice and soft. This part of the evening is called Quiet Time. The
principle works on children. You don’t get them all wound-up and let them
rough-house before bed. You put them through their nightly rituals, the warm
milk and cookies, the brushing of the teeth, the bedtime story. My solitary
cereal eating and bedtime reading constitute the bulk of my Quiet Time, which
my wife must help to preserve. I don’t implement this rule because I’m a bossy
husband. I do so because of necessity. Any glitches in my ritual, any heated
discussion, any bothersome inquiries, any ticklish laughter, anything at all
that disrupts Quiet Time and I’m screwed. Which is to say I’ll be in for a
long, sleepless night. Worse, I’ll resent my wife for having ruined Quiet Time.
Staring at the ceiling all night while resenting my wife is not the manner in
which I wish to spend a huge chunk of my marriage. So let’s be clear. Quiet
Time must be at all costs preserved. The harmony of the marriage depends on it.
Yes, my strict before-bed ritual is burdensome, but it is necessitated by my
insomnia, a condition my wife knew about me before we got married.
Having finished my
cereal and satisfied that I have reached my daily fiber quota, I am then ready
to turn into bed while Isuck on a
one-milligram melatonin lozenge and read a book for forty-five minutes. If I’m
reading pop fiction, I can devour about a page a minute. If the writing is
literary or a dense polemic, about half that. In either case, forty-five
minutes is the rule for stimulating my intellect, for I look at reading as
nourishment for the brain and consume books with the same diligence that I take
my B-complex and fish liver capsules.
I not only read
for my benefit, but my wife’s. After all, she is better served to have a
husband who is well-read and intellectually curious rather than one who is
complacent and willfully ignorant. It gives me great delight while my wife and
I are reading in bed and she’ll turn to me and ask me the meaning of the word
codicil and I will be able to tell her because my life of reading as made me a
valuable resource with a rich vocabulary. Knowing that my wife relies on me as
the ultimate authority on words gives me unspeakable satisfaction.I therefore consider my steady reading
to be an asset to the marriage and look at it as an important rule.
Firstly, it must
be clear that every night at ten sharp when I retreat into the kitchen and have
my high-fiber, low-sugar, high-soy-protein cereal, prunes, and crushed psyllium
husks, which optimize the digestive process, my wife cannot talk to me. It’s
not that I don’t crave my wife’s company. It’s just that during my bedtime
feeding, I need to focus on my eating, the shimmering cereal nuggets staring at
me like precious jewels, the soothing crunching sound of the cereal, the sacred
drinking of the remaining milk from the bowl, which I hold to my lips like some
ancient ceremonial vessel as I slurp its vestiges.
This is a private
time for me, in which my cereal-eating is accompanied by peaceful
introspection. I contemplate the day’s events.I mull over what I did that was beneficial to my life and
gently critique that which was not. I consider those forces of my childhood
that determine the adult character that has been foisted upon me and I consider
those areas of my life that are still open to change. Of course, the scales
weigh heavier for the former more than they do for the latter. Nevertheless, I
make this distinction every night as I feel it is my moral duty to change those
areas of my life that I am capable of changing and resigning myself to those
areas that are set in stone, as it were.
denigrate my nightly ritual as being infantile. Indeed, I have been eating
cereal before bed ever since I was a small boy. Feed the infant and the infant
will fall asleep. As I am a man prone to insomnia, people in general, and my
wife specifically, should indulge my ritual, however childish it might be.
I consider myself
a modern man, sensitive to the ways women have been subjugated to various forms
of exploitation and oppression in the history of the marriage contract, not the
least of which are outlandish dowries foisted upon the woman’s family and
“arranged” marriages with unscrupulous ogres who don’t want a wife so much as
they desire an auxiliary functionary who will aid them in their pleasure
seeking and self-aggrandizement. I am also aware of the staggering divorce rate
in these modern times, with the odds against even the most well-intentioned
couples to have a thriving, enduring marriage. Alas, we read every day in the
gossip rags and entertainment websites about the decadent lives of celebrities
who trade in their spouses with the turning of every season or who in engage in
scandals so elaborate that they would not believed if they were presented in
works of fiction. Saturated with the hedonistic scandals, we tragically feel
entitled to experience the same “freedom,” the kind that results when we
unfetter ourselves from a well ordered marriage with agreed-upon rules of
Indeed, it seems
to me that one of the major reasons behind the collapse of today’s marriages is
that they lack structure, definition, and rules. Without a clear definition of
what a marriage should be, and what it should not be, and without rules and
boundaries to protect the rights and the sanctity of each individual spouse,
there is confusion, abandonment, and inevitable hurt.
Another result of
a marriage without a firm definition and rules is that it quickly degrades into
the adolescent’s notion of a marriage—a Big Goody Box. Whenever you want a
goody, you reach into the Goody Box and you keep taking and taking until the
Goody Box is empty upon which you discard the Goody Box and find yourself a new
one. Sadly, this is what marriage has become for too many of us and it accounts
for our epidemic divorce rate. This Goody Box marriage is not the kind I want
to have. I want one that is strongly defined and the strength of its definition
lies in its firmly established policies.
Now let me make it
clear that last thing I want to do is turn my marriage into a stifling prison
wrought with countless rules and regulations. Therefore, as I consider the
appropriate boundaries my marriage needs in order for me to function at my
optimum level as a husband, I want to be sure to maintain a balance between
order and freedom. Lean too heavily in one direction and the marital equilibrium
will be thrown way off course. And how difficult it is to restore that balance.
course, is the key to any healthy marriage. Husband and wife are lovers but not
lovers at the expense of friendship. Otherwise, when their passion fizzles and
there is no friendship to take up the slack they will shun each other. On the
other hand, if they are friends, or “good buddies,” at the exclusion of
passion, they will be less husband and wife and more like roommates and as such
they will violate the marriage ideal. Therefore, my arduous task to lay down
rules and regulations is not in the slightest about my need for control and
power. Rather, it is about my hunger for balance.
force behind my rule-making is my desire to be at my best, both mentally and
physically. A healthy husband is in far better condition to serve the needs of
his wife and his marriage in general. Therefore, with sober mind I wish to
establish a few rules, gentle guidelines if you will, that will provide a
counterpoint to our culture’s nebulous, sometimes hedonistic, definition of
marriage, to give my wife a clear idea of what I need in order to serve her
well as her husband, and to maximize my physical and mental health so that I
can be at my best to fulfill her needs. If laying down the rules required to
make a marriage run more smoothly strikes you as dictatorial, please consider
that for a marriage to survive and thrive love alone is never enough. Love
without bread will wither like a flower in the desert. And just as love needs
bread, it also needs rules. If we agree with this principle, then we may