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married couple fightingHubs and I went to dinner recently at a beautiful hotel on the river, and they sat us next to a younger couple that were obviously having a little tiff. They were trying to remain inconspicuous, speaking in tense, hushed voices, but  it was clear to anyone nearby that whatever their original intentions were, the evening wasn’t going to with a romantic romp in the hay. We couldn’t help but overhear their conversation and quickly got the gist of why their evening got so derailed.

“But you said you never really loved her,” she whispered, with furrowed brow and pursed lips. “Well, of course I loved her at one time, he replied, sighing, “I married her, for God’s sake. But ultimately, it just didn’t work. The important thing is that I don’t love her now. I love you.” “So how do I know you won’t just quit loving me too?” she persisted. (Nope, this wasn’t going well at all.) “That’s just stupid,” he said, “Now you’re being melodramatic.”

Oh, wrong answer, Dude. Wrong, wrong answer.

It’s not that happily married couples don’t fight. There’s no way you can put two thinking adults in the same house together for 10, 20 or 30+ years and never have them disagree on anything. When a couple claims that they’ve been married for 27 years and have never had an angry moment, ever, what they aren’t telling you is that one of them is so uncomfortable with confrontation that they roll over on every issue, or that one of them is not engaged enough in the relationship to give a horse’s patooty. Or that one of them is lying.

Fights, tiffs, or “spirited debates” are normal and healthy between two grown-ups who spend years and years sharing living quarters. There will inevitably be days when you have to control the urge to back over his new golf clubs (preferably with his cherished, refinished 1964 pick-up) or shrink his favorite expensive cashmere sweater by tossing it in the dryer. On “High.” And he may or may not admit it, but he’s had similar fantasies about giving your loose-fit boyfriend jeans to Goodwill or tossing Baxter, your annoying, yappy toy poodle out the car window onto the tarmac at the local SPCA. As long as you each keep it to yourself and don’t act on it, it will pass and nobody needs to know.

But there are some conversation starters that are guaranteed to bring conflict and drama into the relationship. For some reason, many couples seem to feel the need to ask questions they really don’t want to know the answers to, or make awkward comments that there’s no right answer to, insisting that they’re benign or “just conversation.” But they’re dumb and potentially damaging to the relationship.

Assuming you don’t like unnecessary stress, anxiety, or conflict in your marriage, try to avoid these topics.

  1. How many lovers have you had? Seriously? Why would you want to know that? If he’s over 25 years old, he’s probably going to lie. And unless he’s really good at it, you’re going to suspect he’s not giving you accurate numbers. Now he’s a liar who boned his way through three sororities during his college years. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. You’re both 50. Who cares??
  2. Have you ever “faked it”? Assuming this is a question he’s asking you, remember When Harry Met Sally?  The scene in the restaurant when Meg Ryan was performing a fake orgasm at the table with Billy Crystal sent an entire generation of men into a tailspin of doubt about whether their wives were as talented as Megs. So even if you deny it, he’s probably going to challenge your response. And if you admit you have (even though you made sure to include “Of course it wasn’t with you, sweetie”), he’ll remember that you have, in fact, faked it and some poor sap (him??) believed it. This is a no-win on every level.
  3. If we ever get divorced, I’m taking the serving platter we got in Paris. Or the battery-operated snowblower. Or the sexy red convertible you two take to the wine country every year. Whatever it is you’re sticking a Post-It note on for the Armageddon of your marriage, you just opened the door for the possibility. Now divorce is a “thing.” It’s an option. It’s on the table, to be revisited and offered up in every fight. Happily married couples shut that door and close every window. Divorce is never mentioned, because it’s not an option. “Nobody’s going anywhere. So get back in here, you wuss, and let’s figure this out” is their motto. So they do.
  4. If you cheated, would you tell me? Make no mistake, there is no right answerto this one. If he says “No,” he just told you he would lie to your face, instantly obliterating his believability on all trust issues. “Yes” admits that the possibility exists, even if it hasn’t happened yet. In other words, he’s screwed. And either way, you’re not going to like the answer. Why ask the question?
  5. Well, the prenup says… Any conversation or argument where this is used to make a point is not going to end well. One of you isn’t “reminding” the other one that the prenup says to be loving and to share your toys. The prenup is about what happens when and if the marriage goes south and how one of you is protected from from financial ruin by the other. This isn’t a “gentle reminder.” It’s a threat.
  6. How do you feel about an open relationship? Since this question suggests that Hubby didn’t address this during your dating phase, he can safely assume that it’s not going to be well received at your 15th anniversary party. The time to write up a team playbook about this issue was before the wedding, not after. At this point, you could only conclude that he’s found someone else he wants to hop on top of and he’s looking for absolution or permission. That’s how men get Bobbitted in their sleep.
  7. What is the most outrageous sex you’ve ever had? This is a biggie. Many people like to get out of the bedroom and/or out of the missionary position. To you we say, “Get on with your rebel selves.” Maybe you’ve done the Mile High thing. Maybe you’ve gotten down to business in your office. Or maybe you two got busy in a parking lot somewhere. In the middle of the day. We don’t care. The only problem would be if it wasn’t with her. If there was ever a time to lie, this would be it. If you offer up a nostalgic grin and admit that it was with your old flame in college, the year the two of you hiked the Himalayas together with one sleeping bag and a Sherpa, only God Himself will be able to help you. And He’s busy consoling your wife.

And so it would seem that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does, in fact, have its place. Go live in peace.

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