Maybe Your “Perfect Relationship” Needs a Good Fight

Couple sitting on couch after a fight
“You need to have an argument.”  This was the advice of my small group leaders to my fiance, Pat, and me soon after our engagement.

I smiled and protested that Pat and I had nothing to argue about.

“You will.”

I nodded and joked with Pat about manufacturing an argument.  But inside, I was convinced the lack of disagreement was proof Pat was the man for me.

“You’ve never had an argument?!” exclaimed my friend after Pat and I had been engaged for several months. “You must be the perfect couple.”

I shrugged.  “No, we’re not perfect.” But secretly I agreed with her because clearly we were perfect.  Glad she noticed.

What I didn’t understand is that dating is a best-case scenario.  You put your best foot forward, you make the extra effort to please the other person, and you avoid conflict like the plague.  Sure, you might ask probing questions at the beginning to make sure that the person meets your non-negotiables list (Christian? Check. Employed? Check.).  But once you’ve gotten past that hurdle and settled into a Facebook-official relationship status, the pressure is on to do everything you can not to rock the boat.

The problem, of course, is that life inevitably brings trials and disagreement.  You can hide individual trials while you are dating, but once you’re married, there’s no more hiding. How each of you deals with those trials with each other can make or break your marriage.

Unfortunately, I’ve watched one friend’s marriage after another struggle.  While each struggle is unique to that relationship, the common thread has been disintegrating communication during or following a trial.  They didn’t know how to constructively work through the trial as a couple, so they worked around it.  Only the trial didn’t go away, but slowly grew between them, distancing and separating them.  They are now dealing with it, but what started as a pebble has become a mountain.  Had they built the necessary skills in dating to support each other during the trial, perhaps their marriages needn’t have suffered.

For Pat and I, we didn’t have to manufacture an argument. The past few months have brought more trials than I could have imagined, ones I couldn’t hide from.  I lost my job.  Former coworkers and colleagues subsequently cut me off.  I struggled to sell my house.  Even what should be a joyous time – preparing to marry my fiance – has been stressful as I feel caught in the limbo of engaged-but-not-yet-married.

The silver lining to this all is Pat has shown his true colors as a partner, and let me tell you, they are beautiful.  He’s been supportive and loving, reassuring me and holding me up when I would have fallen.  We’ve weathered challenges together, and our faith and trust in each other is even more secure as we enter marriage.

The point isn’t that you should have a rocky relationship or force disagreement. But be real with the other person about the trials in your life, and see how they respond. Are they dismissive or supportive, caring or condescending?  If you have a disagreement, don’t shy away from it, but use it as an opportunity to work on your communication skills as a couple. Your future marriage will be the better for it.

And no, Pat and I still haven’t had an argument, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect.  (But maybe…)

Joanna Saul lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University (Go Bucks!) and Georgetown Law.  She runs The Modern Ruth Project and works in state government to help the disadvantaged and has recently started a walking program for her local community.  As a 30-something singleton, she is passionate about using her time to serve God’s people.

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