It was our honeymoon, and we weren’t speaking.
My mouth a firm line, I avoided all eye contact with my new husband. I tried staring at my plate but Alan’s shiny new ring kept catching my eye, taunting me. The ring represented everything I was trying to forget – Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:7 ESV)
After a few dreamy days at Walt Disney World, Alan and I had driven to the beach. And when you are at the beach and it’s time to eat, you want to eat seafood, of course.
Unless, you are me. Then you hate seafood.
So in an effort to find a restaurant agreeable to both of us, Alan and I used the following plan:
1. Drive to awesome sounding seafood place with “captain” or “shipwrecked” in the name.
2. I’d jump out and skim menu for a tasty chicken dish
3. Return to the car disappointed
After doing this twenty-eleven times or so, Alan and I both got hungry. Really hungry.
To make a long story short, snippy words flew, we pulled into the local Red Lobster (yes, I know we could have eaten there at home) and found ourselves sitting across from each other angry – and hungry. We like to call that “hangry.”
After a few cheesy garlic biscuits, we were ready to talk. Some would be disheartened at a lover’s quarrel on their honeymoon. Alan and I decided we learned a valuable lesson – do not let the other one get hungry.
Here’s the thing. All of us – married or not – have what I like to call trigger factors. Trigger factors are those things that really annoy us. Some examples of trigger factors are clutter, too many noises at the same time (like all three children trying to talk to me over the sound of the TV) and heat. My mother’s pre-wedding advice to Alan? “Whatever you do, don’t let her vacuum without a ponytail!”
Okay, so those were really just mine. But here are some others:
-lack of sleep
You get the idea. There are many more. If you trigger one of these factors in your spouse, you may soon find yourself in quite a battle. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let me offer some advice.
5 ways to stop an argument before it starts
1. Discover your spouse’s trigger factors (and make sure they know yours)
If you’ve been married for a while, you may already know these. But it never hurts to ask. Perhaps you’re aware of some, but may be surprised about others. Sometimes naming them helps both of you to be alert and recognize when either of you have been triggered.
2. Stop and look both ways
Next time your significant other explodes and you are scratching your head wondering why, pause and look for one of those trigger factors. One time Alan was working on the computer and I asked him a question. His response was clipped and snippy. I paused a second, put a hand on his back and asked, “Are you hungry?”
“YES!” was his quick reply. You better believe I hopped down to the kitchen and brought him a pack of crackers in a hurry. The same has happened when I’ve walked into the house when it needed cleaning. It made me irritable. Alan knew this and was great about straightening up when he saw my eyes cross and begin to spin.
3. Show grace
Does knowing trigger factors excuse bad behavior? No. It doesn’t. You still need to say I’m sorry for using a hateful tone of voice. But it does help to explain why your spouse is so upset. When you realize your honey’s irritability button has been triggered, show grace. Know it just as easily could have been you who fell into the grumpy pit.
If you are slow to anger and quick to understand, you may stop a full fight before it ever happens.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:9 NIV
4. Plan ahead
Some things you cannot help, but take control of the ones you can. If you know the smell of broccoli sends your loved one over the edge, then don’t cook it! Do what you can to prevent setting off a trigger factor. This applies to you, also.
If you know heat is your trigger factor, put your hair in a ponytail before you vacuum and turn on a ceiling fan or two. If you truly love your spouse (let’s hope you do or we have bigger issues here), then you want to make them happy. Do what you can to create a pleasing atmosphere.
If your spouse has lots of trigger factors, it may feel like you are constantly walking through a minefield. Take time to sit down with them when you aren’t in the middle of an argument and discuss some of these.
But whatever you do, don’t throw live grenades into your marriage or you will be guaranteed some casualties.
In a loving, Christ-like commitment of two people, there will still be arguments. Toes will be stepped on. Feet will be inserted into mouths. You and your spouse will both have your trigger factors set off and will both fly off the handle from time to time.
Listen to me. This. Is. Normal.
It happens. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t call a divorce lawyer. Don’t buy a voodoo doll and stick needles in your lover’s eyes.
The best thing you can learn to do for a long happy marriage is learn to forgive. Simple to say, sometimes it’s not so simple to do.
But forgive them anyway.
When you are in the heat of the moment, decide it then. Decide to forgive them before they say I’m sorry. Forgiveness will deflate a fight in a hurry.
When I am the angriest, I stop and ask myself, “Do I expect God to forgive me?” Tomorrow when I screw up, do I honestly want God to forgive me of my sins? And I realize I, too, must forgive.
Disagreements are normal in a marriage of two imperfect people. Hopefully, we can learn from them. Pay attention and take note of the things that upset your spouse. Then work to stop arguments before they happen.
Because, honestly, your spouse isn’t just your life partner or your lover, your spouse is your best friend.
And friends don’t let friends get hangry.