By Rob Furlong
In her memoir, The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr writes about her life growing up in a family with two alcoholic parents and the dysfunction that came with that. She also tells the story of her Aunt Annie and Uncle Lee who had an argument that they never resolved.
Uncle Lee was angry at how much money his wife was spending on sugar and so fierce was their disagreement that they did not speak to each other for forty years.
They continued to live in the same house, eat the same food and sleep in the same bed but they steadfastly refused to verbally communicate with each other. For the first ten years they got around this obvious difficulty by leaving notes for each other but in time this also ceased.
Deciding that enough was enough, one day Uncle Lee enlisted the aid of his nephew and while Aunt Annie was at a church meeting for the day the two men took a lumber saw and proceeded to cut the house the couple lived in into two halves.
The sides of each half were boarded up, Uncle Lee moved his half behind some pine trees on their property and they lived out their days married, but separated.
This story touches us deeply because we either know couples like this or we have experienced this kind of pain firsthand.
Perhaps we have not sawn houses in half but the relational gulf that exists in our home is as deep, wide and ugly as the gulf that eventually divided the home of Uncle Lee and Aunt Annie.
And before you accuse me of overstating my case think about it for a moment. What married couple has not argued over something as trivial as the price of sugar or replacing a bar of soap in the bathroom?
Within every one of us, there is an in-built switch that defaults to defensiveness when it appears that our ego is being maligned or our failures are laid bare. Rather than admitting we are wrong we will fight tooth and nail to defend ourselves — no matter how insignificant the issue is.
My advice to couples when faced with times such as these is quite simple: think carefully about where your actions may lead you. In other words, if I persist with pressing home my case against my spouse, even if I am right, where could it possibly end up?
Separate bedrooms for the night or the week? Perhaps months…or years!
Maybe hurt, anger and silence in a home that was once filled with laughter and joy?
Worse still the possibility of separation and eventually divorce?
My purpose is not to be alarmist but to simply point out that our actions have consequences and this is especially so when couples fail to resolve conflict properly. Statistics have shown that most issues of conflict between a couple arise within the first two years of marriage but on average most couples wait a further five years before attempting to deal with them. Sadly, for many couples, by then it is too late.
So think before you act (and speak) the next time you are tempted to try and win an argument with your loved one. Even if you are right is it really worth it?
Instead of trying to win why not both accept your responsibility for the current breakdown and then move forward with a positive mindset focussed on resolution and reconciliation?
Solomon certainly nailed it when he said,
By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.