In the weeks following our first big fight after having a baby—the Post-Baby Brawl we’d been waiting for—my fearful nighttime thoughts were more frequent and disastrous than ever. First, I returned to the previous theme of questioning Matthew’s character: Matthew is a selfish person, a taker, inconsiderate in the extreme. But I found even those thoughts could be topped.
My whole life is a sham. I go around pretending that everything is okay, but it’s not; a lot of days, I’m barely hanging on. I’m never going to solve my relationship problems. It’s impossible. He will never change.
One afternoon about a month after the argument, I put Poppy in the carrier and took her to the nearest running track for an easy, undistracted walk. I didn’t want to think about the scenery or where to turn next; I just wanted to focus on my thoughts. When we arrived, the park was empty, and I decided to take the opportunity to speak my feelings out loud, try to untangle them.
“How does everyone do it?” I asked myself. “There’s got to be something I’m missing. My friends, people I know—they have kids and recommend it. They seem happy with their partners despite the challenges. What do they know that I haven’t figured out yet? Is there something here I need to learn?
“I just feel so lost. I don’t know what to do, how to get through to him. It’s obvious to me that he needs to do more. But there are only so many different ways I can ask him. I’m angry so often, and I hate it.”
Then a thought came. A feeling, really, much like the one that came a month prior. Like its predecessor, it came with a rightness, with a force of knowing—and even with a bit of peace.
“What if you tried not showing Matthew your anger?” it said. “What if you just had a lighthearted conversation? There is no rule that says you have to be honest all the time about your feelings. You can fake it a little–smile, make a joke. Even when you’re mad, you don’t have to fight. You can say nothing, or just talk.”
I rounded the next curve in silence, letting the thought sink in. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Hadn’t I always heard that it’s good for couples to fight, to vent their feelings before they grew into resentment? If I never yelled at Matthew, how would he know that he hurt me? What would motivate him to do better?
Soon, good sense set in. Of course, I thought. A smile. A joke. Learning how to just talk. I can show Matthew how I feel without yelling.
I can be mad, but not fight
For the rest of the walk, I contemplated the advice further, and by the time I reached home, I had a plan. In addition to always assuming the best of Matthew, I would attempt to never show him my anger—to only either speak nicely or be silent.
Though the months that followed proved the plan difficult, even impossible, to carry out flawlessly, I never stopped believing in its effectiveness–and the more I practiced it, the easier it became. Far from adding to my resentment, it helped me keep my perspective.
Just talking, it turned out, was pretty awesome.
Why didn’t anyone teach me this sooner? I wondered. I guess there’s a point to marriage after all.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.