You fight. You don’t want to, but you do. You fight because of things she does that you don’t like and things you do that she doesn’t like. The things themselves are not important; what’s important is that you both always do them. You may say you are fighting about her habits, and she may say she is fighting about yours — that you are fighting over the nearly daily discovery that habits are inextinguishable. But really, you are fighting because you are married, and fighting is as intrinsic to marriage as sex.
What do you fight about? Simple: You fight about what you always fight about. You fight about what you have always fought about.
If you want to stay married, you don’t have to be able to stop fighting; you have to be able to keep fighting, in the same way.
Fights are not just arguments that don’t end. They are arguments that enter a dimension different from the one in which they started. They’re volatile, often imaginative, and always terribly personal. They are, in other words, what sex should be.
People know a lot more about your fighting than you think they do. Your children are especially unfooled, for though you don’t have sex in front of them, you fight in front of them, or at least within their earshot, and your fights will forever serve as their introduction to the complexities of adulthood. You think that some fights are trivial because they are over trivial matters. Your children understand that there are no trivial fights, because each fight has the potential to grow into the kind of fight that ends your marriage.
What kind of fight is that? The kind of fight you win. The question is not who can win, because anyone can win if they’re willing to win at the cost of love and respect. The question is who can abstain from winning, who can resist the temptation of winning, which, like any other marital temptation, is always there.
But how do you do that? Well, you don’t go to sleep angry, as the old saying goes. And you don’t say what can’t be unsaid. And you don’t fight drunk. And you never end a fight by having sex with someone else instead of each other. Infidelity is the final measure of victory and defeat.
What do you fight for, if you can’t fight to win? You are fighting for power, of course — but if your marriage is healthy, you will fight to restore the balance of power instead of fighting to destroy it. You are fighting as a way of voicing your objections to the person you have chosen to live your life with — but if your marriage is healthy, the fight will end in surrender rather than loss. Sex matters to a marriage. Fidelity matters to a marriage. But fighting matters to a marriage because what matters most to a marriage is forgiveness, and forgiveness doesn’t come free. You have to fight for it.