All couples argue from time to time. As a matter of fact, the idea of people being permanently sweet-tempered, never displaying any irrational behaviour smacks of unrealistic happy-ever-after romantic stories. Of course, the degree of dissent varies from couple to couple—some show only occasional, short-lived hostility, while others live in a world of constant bickering argument and retaliation.
Sumbo and Ishmael are in their late 30s, and have known each other for 12 years. They went out together briefly when they first met; separated and were then reconciled six years ago. They have been married for five years and have a son. “Ishmael and I quarrelled about very minor things and the arguments always arise out of his obstinacy and my demanding nature”, Sumbo said. She is a civil servant and her husband is an accountant. “My husband says I’m spoilt and he won’t give in because he thinks it’ll make me even worse.
“When things are going badly, we argue about three or four times a week. That’s usually because I’m suffering from pre-menstrual tension. There have been a few occasions when he’s hit me but I’ve deserved it every time. “Before we were married, the rows lingered on for much longer because, as we weren’t living together, we didn’t resolve anything. So in some ways, things are better now, although at least before, when we got back together again, the passion was enormous after such a long separation.
The only good thing about rowing is the making up. Since marrying Ishmael, my relationship with my mother has improved greatly because I used to have terrible arguments with her, but now I take it out on him instead.
“When we’re in the middle of a row, he’s no such thing as rational argument and we very soon forget what we’re arguing about. Some of our fights are incredibly ferocious and we end up tearing each other apart. I wish it didn’t happen so much because it wears me out and sometimes I think I’m going to die because my hearts’s pounding so much.
‘The other night for instance, we had a row because I’d spent money that I shouldn’t have. He thinks I’m a bit of a spend thrift. I really pushed him to the limit on this occasion until finally he yelled, ‘it is finished’ and walked out of the door. I was sure he’d come back as he didn’t take the car. I lay awake all night thinking he’d been a victim of the ‘one-chance’(criminal operators,) or had been run over by a car and it was all my fault. Before going to work the next day, I left him a note saying how terribly sorry I was, and when he got back, he rang me at work and said he was terribly sorry too. We’re always quick to apologise and to make up.
“A lot of rows happen because he misinterprets my jokes. For instance, after an evening out with friends, I might say, in a sarcastic manner, ‘you were very chatty tonight”, and he actually thinks I’m being serious. Then I have to say: ‘Actually, you weren’t, you were pathetic.’ And so not surprisingly, we start fighting. I hate to see couples bickering in public, so I never say anything when we’re out—but afterwards, when we’re alone, I can’t help tearing into him. Most of our arguments happen because he thinks I’m trying to make him into someone he isn’t”.
“Quarrelling couples tend to follow certain unconscious and unconstructive rules” observed Mercy, a marriage counsellor. “For instance, he or she will take any criticism personally, look for ulterior motive for the attack, agree with nothing said in reply, repeat all prior criticisms, never relent, and if hard-pressed, either cry or storm out. One consequence of such behaviour is that people can’t remember what was said in any coherent fashion because they constantly shift from point to point during a high state of tension and anger.
“Even couples who are happy fight—some frequently and ferociously, love invokes passionate feelings and anger may be nothing more than love frustrated. But arguments needn’t be destructive as long as anger, hostility and even rage can be expressed in words and as long as people are willing to listen to each other. At least like this, tension is released, whereas constantly repressing feelings can result in physical and psychological damage.