Wham! The front door slammed behind me with satisfying volume. That would teach him! He had to be the most insensitive husband in the whole universe. I absolutely won’t listen to his unreasonableness one more minute.

A twisted sense of triumph surged through me. I bet he was already missing me and wondering when I would be back. Then the frigid, 10-degree air hit me full-blast as if . . . well, as if I were standing in 10-degree air without a coat. I had forgotten my coat, not to mention my keys. As I stood on the porch, the magnitude of my tactical error bore down on me almost as uncomfortably as the cold wind.

What happens when you take an argument misstep

What now? I recoiled from the thought of a humiliating immediate re-entrance after such a dramatic exit. I contemplated a stoic walk down the street but realized how utterly ridiculous I would look dressed as I was. Where would I go anyway?

That dilemma made me noodle another disquieting question. Where would I have gone if I had managed to accomplish the dramatic exit with keys and coat in hand? And come to think of it, no matter when I came back, wasn’t the re-entrance always a bit awkward? And then there was that pesky little problem of the original unresolved argument.

Unless . . . unless my husband would rush out after me and beg me to return because he couldn’t endure being separated from me for even a minute. I allowed myself to daydream about that scenario until the biting wind pulled me back to reality. Note to self: Use the "Dramatic Exit" strategy only when I want to complicate the argument and further alienate my husband.

A list of what not to do

And that was the humble beginning of "The List." In our 15 years of marriage, "The List" has become fairly impressive. It is a catalog of no-win tactics to draw from when I want to do the absolute worst thing for our relationship. Here are the top six; maybe you’ll recognize them:

  1. The aforementioned Dramatic Exit tops the list as my favorite. It is an excellent option when you suddenly realize your argument is weak. It is guaranteed to stop any discussion in its tracks and divert attention from the actual problem to other issues – like your propensity for drama. It also opens the door to prolonged separation because the re-entry usually involves some unsavoury humble pie.
  2. The "Low Blow" is great for a fast score. You can usually tell you hit the mark by the unmistakable anger in your spouse’s eyes. The hurt brought by the Low Blow will last for an extended period and wreak havoc on trust and closeness. Beware, however, if you possess flaws yourself because your spouse’s return blow is usually vicious.
  3. The "Public Ridicule" closely resembles the Low Blow but it is done in front of others. Use this when you really want to escalate the damage to your marriage. It also has the prolonged effect of bringing awkwardness to your relationships with friends and family.
  4. The "Power-Play Ultimatum" wields the potential to swing the argument dramatically in your direction. It can force your spouse to be sensible without your taking one step toward sensibility. It comes with the risk of having to deploy said ultimatum if your spouse, by chance, decides to call your bluff. This invariably causes unpleasant consequences for you as well as your spouse. It is akin to winning a war with chemical weapons, only to live with the toxic fallout.
  5. The "Raise-the-Volume Tactic" includes yelling, stomping, slamming, turning up the music and the ever popular "Na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you." This brilliant strategy drowns out your spouse’s opinion and stops any attempt to communicate. It tends to enrage your spouse and entrenches both of you in your opinions. Typically, it encourages comments from your spouse about childishness. If you succeed at being loud enough, though, you won’t hear them.
  6. The "Silent Treatment" is a wonderful punitive strategy (unless, of course, your spouse fancies a little peace and quiet). It makes interactions in the home stilted. The risk is that your silence may not be obvious to your spouse, who may forget you are still mad and go back to watching TV.

Sometimes I still resort to this list. Other times, especially when I am tired of arguing, I’ve begun to experiment with a new strategy: I remind myself of my long-term goal for our marriage – a loving, strong, mutually satisfying, God-glorifying relationship. Then I ask myself what I need to do to bring us closer to that end.

On occasion, I even pray for wisdom. Then I bite my tongue and make myself be still until I am able to control my emotions and do what is needed for a healthy relationship. I may stew a lot before I come to that point, but I can usually manage to get there in the end.

This new strategy, however, doesn’t bring the drama and sleepless nights as do the tactics on "The List." In fact, sometimes the result is a peaceful night’s sleep, wrapped in the arms of the one I love.

Teresa Turner Vining lives in the Kansas City, Kansas area, where she tries to avoid resorting to “The List.”

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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