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Never mind the bust-ups: Why arguing is the secret to a strong marriage

How can you possibly know someone without knowing what pisses them off?

Rosie Wilby
Tuesday 16 May 2023 17:56 BST
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Two strangers got married after meeting on TikTok for fun

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Just married and arguing all the time? Don’t sweat it. Even the best couples fight. As much as love can bring joy, elation and companionship, the experience of being in a long-term relationship is fairly frequently a miserable and tiring one. Comedian Lucy Porter says that “marriage is essentially waking up every day and seeing the face of the person you love ageing in front of your eyes” and likens that experience to the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arkwhere “the Nazis’ faces melt”.

It happens to the best of us. Take Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, photographed last week in what The New York Post labelled a “tense convo” while posing on the red carpet at the premiere of her new film The Mother. Days before that, a video showing him awkwardly slamming a car door on her went viral. And it's been a couple of months since they “bickered” at the Grammys, unaware that they were on camera (Affleck later told the Hollywood Reporter that he was simply trying to give JLo some space to be interviewed by host Trevor Noah). So what? Even if they were arguing (which, according to The Daily Mail’s “designated lip reader”, is highly spurious) this is totally par for the course.

Or take me. I got married last year. Our first ever argument flared up when I inadvertently let out a tiny high-pitched fart while we were eating fish and chips in a graveyard. It was hardly a candlelit dinner. Yet she thought I had ruined the moment. A big factor in my knowing that I could commit to my wife for the long haul was her brutal honesty. If she fancies a fight, she doesn’t hold back. In previous relationships with more conflict-averse partners, things all just felt a bit too calm. I hated having to tiptoe around tense situations rather than just air things, get the argument over with and feel resolved again.

Psychologist Dr Ed Tronick believes that rough patches and conflicts are crucial to our social and emotional development. By working through them, we build deeper, lasting connections. In his book The Power of Discord, co-written with Dr Claudia Gold, he says that “misunderstandings are necessary to access the repair that provides energy for growth and change. When two people move from misunderstanding to understanding, they connect with each other”.

I agree. How can you possibly know someone without knowing what pisses them off? And how can you truly know and trust your relationship without knowing that you can argue and survive it?

So let’s ease up on Ben and Jen. Having a relationship is hard work, even without the intense scrutiny of being a celebrity couple. It’s not like we have to hang out with them and deal with the fallout of their arguments. As comedian and podcaster Grainne Maguire, a celebrity couples obsessive, says, “they are two very big personalities, which is going to create drama, friction and fights. I’m so happy for us as a culture that they’re back together – we deserve it. But I’d hate to be their best friend”.

A public lovers’ tiff is a spectacle as compelling to watch as the blood sports of ancient Rome. I can’t be the only one who grabs the snacks and plonks myself down by the window every time I hear the neighbours fly into a rage about which bin to put out this week. Yet as much as such stuff makes for juicy tabloid fodder, fights and fallouts are totally normal in any relationship. Take it from me: you’re going to be just fine.

Rosie Wilby is a comedian and the author of The Breakup Monologues (Bloomsbury)

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