For the past four years, I’ve been crisscrossing the country with a tape recorder, interviewing hundreds of men and women, trying to figure out why 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce. As you might expect, many people spoke about The Four Cs: Commitment, Communication, Compatibility, and Compromise.
But there is a fifth C-word that is just as important, if a bit less cuddly. Combat. A man in his late thirties who is now happily married to his second wife told me: “My advice for someone getting married would not be to learn how to get along, but to learn how to fight fairly and productively.” With that goal in mind, here are seven insights—from real men and women, adapted from my new book You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married)—about how to battle better with your better half.
“The fact that divorce is a possibility is probably a good thing for making people stay on their toes…”
1. Don’t paint the red flags white
“You have to be honest. I think we tend to avoid and withhold a lot of stuff in our daily lives just to keep things going smoothly. We pick our battles, we don’t want to rock the boat. So you have to create a forum where it’s okay to say all the things you can’t say normally. Fighting is like the court or the ring or the arena. There are boundaries but it’s still full contact. And once you enter that arena, that’s the time to let it all out.”
2. It’s never about what it’s about
“There’s a book called It’s Never About What It’s About and I would have to agree with that. The little things seem to get under one’s skin but for the most part I believe that we use those things as tools to clobber our partners about something else entirely, some bigger issue.”
3. Admit, don’t accuse
“Jealousy turns me off entirely. Any type of jealousy or anger. The man that I’m with now, he had severe anger and jealousy issues. Whenever my eyes would go off he would accuse me of thinking of my ex. An anonymous text would come in, I’d look at the phone, and he was like: ‘Is it him?’ Just paranoid. So I immediately I told him: ‘You have to work on yourself. I’m going to help you, we’re going to do it together, but I can’t live with a man that’s accusing me of things that I didn’t do.’”
4. Use your index finger
“My wife and I have a signal and know how to end a fight. Regardless of whether anything has been resolved, we can snap out of our bad moods and move on by holding up our index finger and signaling to the other to do the same. We count “one-two-three” and snap our fingers. The fight is over. The rule is that we can never refuse to snap and so far that has worked. It’s like a safety valve to diffuse any situation and prevent a fight from ruining our day. It works by email and text message as well.”
5. If she says “I’m fine,” she’s not
“I loved therapy. And [my ex] was like, ‘This sucks, I’m fine—F-I-N-E.’ And you know what that stands for, right? Fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. Oh yeah, if you’re those four things and you’re not ready to admit it, you’re fine.”
6. The benefits of divorce
“The fact that divorce is a possibility is probably a good thing for making people stay on their toes. If you knew for a fact that this person was going to be yours ’till the day you die, you might really become complacent and make no effort.”
“My black trainer always says, ‘You white people like to keep all this shit up your butt.’ Meaning, we sweep stuff under the rug, we don’t like to confront our problems. And it’s those situations, when you’re not secure in your relationship, or you’re not secure with yourself, that the demons inside just eat you alive.”