Yes, we fight. We’re not the picture perfect couple. Sometimes we even fight in front of the kids. And when we do — we also kiss and make up in front of them.
Alex and I don’t fight a lot. We fight, but since we started couples therapy it’s been so much better. I think it was about 5 years ago that we reached a low point in our relationship: Miscommunication, resentment, fights – lots of fights. We had two options before us: either break up, or decide that all chips are in in this relationship and we’re willing to work on it.
For me, personally, it wasn’t the first time that I got to that “fork in the road” in a relationship. In fact, I think that the majority of couples get there at some point, and I’ll suggest that it usually happens around year 3, when the infatuation dies off and you must learn to continue to grow yourselves and your relationship without it. The last time I got to that point, I decided to break up. Then I never stopped talking about it, wrote a book about it, and it took me around 10 years to find a new boyfriend. And then three and a half years together and I found myself at that same point again. The hell if I was quitting now. “I’m going to figure this relationship thing out once and for all,” I then told my late therapist. That was the point (for me) where we started couples therapy.
A lot of life came back to our relationship two years into the therapy, when we figured out that we now loved each other more deeply – and also very differently – than we had after we’d met. Alex and I have been working hard to see how different we are from each other, which makes us understand each other better, which brings us closer.
And then kids. As everyone always says, “having kids changes everything” – and it does. But for us the great surprise was how powerful this has been for our relationship. It has shown us each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It has taught us to lean on each other. It has made us a team.
But before your take our your barf bags, let me share with you how things can still go very wrong: Alex had to go to a Bar Mitzvah after being away for work for almost a full week before that. The kids were just waking up and my Moroccan-Israeli temperament was starting to bubble as he was planning his get away. A regular disagreement about the balance of child care between us ended up in high-powered screaming and Alex saying “F*** You!” and slamming himself into our home office.
The four big eyes of our little twins turned towards me from the living room. But I couldn’t deliver the “ok, kids, let’s all watch Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ video and DANCE!” The volcano that was my brain was already spewing debris. “You don’t get to say F*** you and slam doors after not being here all week, you have two kids now!” I opened the door screaming back at Alex, and the exchange of screaming was escalating until one of the kids came in and cried “stop it!” (that’s the first time he ever used these words together, by the way, which, under other circumstances, would have been so cute!). Alex was stunned, I could see it, from the very fact that I screamed back at him. I never do it. I don’t believe in screaming, I believe in letting anger calm down and then speaking from a more rational place.
Alex stayed in the office while I took the kids to the kitchen to fix some breakfast, and while doing that I was thinking about fighting in front of the kids. Do I believe in the “not in front of the kids” method? Not really. Just because you can never be consistent about it, and to me, the value of consistency is one of the most important parenting values. Sometimes you just release anger at your partner and the kids happen to be there. It happens. I think that what bothered me the most about this specific fight was the slamming of the door. There’s anger that leads to arguing and maybe even to screaming, and then there’s anger that leads to action, and I don’t believe in anger-to-action method, nor do I want to teach my kids that, and that’s exactly what I tried to explain to Alex after we calmed down.
During therapy I’ve learned a lot about anger, and explored my own anger as it bursts and then goes down. For some reason I thought that making a move motivated by anger would release the anger. In most cases, action only made it worse. Bad feeling thought it may be, I’ve learned that the healing to anger is mostly time.
What I definitely believe in, however, is “make up in front of the kids.” As a child I remember my parents fighting, but I don’t remember ever seeing them make up. It always happened “behind our backs.” After talking things out the “couples therapy way” with Alex while the kids had their breakfast, we came out to the kitchen together and hugged in front of the kids and said – genuinely – to each other how much we loved each other. It was also somewhat therapeutic to do that. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I had to hide my gay feelings growing up, and how many times I didn’t hold my previous boyfriends’ hands on the street just because society saw it as unnatural. Now I’m saying it as freely and simply in front of my kids. I hope they will grow up with such a different experience.
And with that fight a new rule of parenting became clearer to me: We can never promise not to fight in front of the kids again, that would be inhuman. Kids have to know that in every relationship there is sometimes fighting, and that’s ok. So let’s just promise ourselves that if we fight in front of the kids – we also make up in front of the kids. Let them learn the full story of a loving relationship.
Now you may take out your barf bags