How to Look Forward to Arguing
Like most guys I would rather face the muzzle of an assault rifle than a pissed off wife.
— Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille
If you think makeup sex is something that only happens in the movies, this post is for you.
It is not uncommon in my work as a psychotherapist to talk to men who have become so conflict-avoidant that placating their wives is the most important thing in the relationship to them. They are so scared of their partner’s disapproval that they’ve essentially given up on any efforts to try to work things out or get closer. All they want now is for her to stop being mad at them.
In intimate relationships, anger is simply an indication that the other person doesn’t like the way things are going in the relationship and would like things to be better. If your wife says to you, “I’m angry that you forgot we agreed to work on the yard this weekend and you made other plans,” that’s not an attack or a personal criticism that needs to be defended or, worse, retaliated against. She didn’t say that you did anything wrong or that you need to do anything different.
She just said she didn’t like the way things went between you. She’s giving you important information about how she feels about her connection to you, and your job is just to listen.
Of course, in the real world, anger is rarely delivered quite so cleanly. The message you get may sound more like “I’m angry at you for making other plans, and you always do that because I’m not as important to you as your friends!” In this case, your job is still to listen, although you may have to listen a little harder between the lines to get to the important information. Good conflict helps people resolve issues and feel closer.
That’s why people get excited about makeup sex; couples often feel much closer after a good argument, and there’s an excitement that comes from having cleared the air that can energize the couple sexually.
Not All Conflict Is Helpful
Conflict can also be abusive, which calls for an entirely different set of responses. Abuse is not about trying to get closer to another person; abuse is speaking without regard for the impact of your words on another person or, in the extreme, even intentionally trying to hurt another person. The appropriate response to abuse is to set firm limits and, if that doesn’t work, to leave.