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My husband and I are yellers, and I am sick of it. We love each other, and I think we’ve found a great match in each other in just about all ways. The sex is fantastic, we’re super attracted to one another, we love spending time together, we can talk for hours, we have similar life goals and interests, etc., etc. But then we fight about whatever the topic at hand might be (and probably about the same amount that most couples do), and it is SO loud that I’m embarrassed. He thinks that’s dumb — like, why do I care what other people think? But I do worry about what the neighbors think.
I want to be able to communicate without feeling like we have to raise our voices continuously to be heard. Easier said than done, believe me, when you’re angry. It’s loud, embarrassing, damaging and frankly just unattractive to me. The more it happens, even though I love him the same, the less I like him. Maybe we’re just “fiery” like he says, but I’m not sure how long I can do this, in spite of our otherwise wonderful relationship. I’d really miss him and us if we called it quits for something that seems like we should be able to control.
You know, if you were asking me, as a friend, “Should I be embarrassed or care what the neighbors think?” my answer would be an unequivocal, “Of course not!” Unless there’s a risk that the police will be called, your neighbors’ opinions should be meaningless to you. They’re not a part of your marriage.
But do you know what I would never tell you, Fiery? That your feelings are “dumb.”
Now, maybe you’re just paraphrasing there. But if your husband is telling you, especially in the context of a fight, that your opinions and feelings are lacking in worth, then Fiery, he doesn’t just fight loud: He fights dirty. And that’s where you need to start, to begin unraveling your impasse. Because a rejection of your feelings — even, and perhaps especially, if his instinct is that they’re “dumb” — is a sign of disrespect.
Without respect, it doesn’t matter how well-matched you are, how great the sex is or how much you love each other. Compatibility, in all the ways you describe, forms the limbs of a healthy relationship, and love, perhaps, the torso: But respect is the backbone.
Put a pause on all of your other arguments and ask him to respect you in this. If he can’t or won’t, you have much bigger problems than what the neighbors think.
When it comes to the fighting itself, you’re both right. There’s nothing “wrong” with any volume of fighting, so long as it remains respectful and non-violent. Healthy arguments can happen at any volume. But some partners operate on the mentality that yelling shows you care, and quiet calm means you’ve given up — that you no longer have the energy or the passion or the desire to care about the argument or, consequently, the person you are arguing with.
If that’s the kind of experience he’s coming from, I can tell you that it will take real work and dedication for him to learn another way. I’ll reiterate that I believe it is incumbent on him to do that work. But you’ll maintain a healthier balance in your relationship if you can find ways to have empathy for him while he’s on that path.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 270.