In the last season of The Office, Jim Halpert has launched a start-up with a friend and has to travel from Scranton to Philly every weekend.
It’s exhausting. And it’s beginning to take a toll on his marriage. He and Pam try everything from marriage counseling to frequent date nights to try to ease the tension. But nothing seems to help.
Then on Valentine’s Day, in the episode “Couples Discount,” they plan a nice dinner together and Jim postpones his commute to Philly until the next morning.
But once again tensions rise and before they head home for their “romantic evening,” Jim says:
“You know what? Maybe we should cancel that bottle of wine tonight.”
Jim: “Yeah, I just feel like I have a bunch of stuff to do in Philly and I’m sure you have stuff to do… so, maybe you could just drop me off at the bus station?”
Pam, half confused and half concerned: “Are you sure?”
Jim answers honestly: “I just feel like we’re gonna fight… so, how ’bout let’s not?”
Ordinarily, Pam might have left it at that. But earlier that day they had lunch with a friend who was going through a divorce. When they asked what happened, he explained that fighting isn’t what ended his marriage. On the contrary, giving up the fight was.
“When we were fighting it weirdly felt like the relationship was still alive. And it wasn’t until we stopped fighting that we realized that it was over.”
So as Jim and Pam walk to the door, about to cancel their date night plans, Pam reaches for her coat and then pauses. She says, “I don’t think you should go to Philly tonight. I think you should stay. And I think that we should fight.”
Jim hesitates: “You really want to fight on Valentine’s Day?”
And Pam, feeling the full weight of her answer, cautiously, yet confidently says, “Yeah, I do.”
To fight, or not to fight?
Fighting with your spouse can be scary. No matter how well prepared we are for marriage, nothing makes conflict any easier or any less avoidable.
A study by the University of Michigan followed 373 couples over a span of 16 years to see how different fighting styles affected their relationships. They observed 3 different kinds of fighting styles—destructive (yelling, screaming, etc.), constructive (speaking calmly to try to resolve the issue) and withdrawal (shutting down or leaving).
You might guess that the “destructive” fighters had a high divorce rate, and the “constructive” fighters had a low divorce rate. And you would mostly be right.
However, among the highest correlations to divorce was the couples where one spouse tried to deal with conflict constructively and the other withdrew and tried to avoid conflict.
The spouse who tried to deal with conflict constructively saw the one who always withdrew as not taking the relationship seriously.
Our goal should never be to have a conflict-free marriage. Our goal should be to have an honest, servant-hearted and loving marriage.
Sometimes not fighting seems like a good solution to keeping the peace in our homes. After all, we all know families who seem to fight all the time, and we don’t want to be like that. Maybe you even came from a family like that.
Likewise, many of us know of at least one couple that never seems to fight. And their home looks peaceful, at least from the outside.
But our goal should never be to have a conflict-free marriage. Our goal should be to have an honest, servant-hearted and loving marriage.
And most of the time, the road to a truly peaceful marriage is paved with conflict and disagreement. But in the end, it’s worth it.
Avoiding conflict isn’t how to have a peaceful home. Learning to fight fair and respectfully is.
What makes a strong marriage isn’t whether or not you get along all the time. What makes a strong marriage is that when you disagree, you are ready to listen and you are even willing to fight if that’s what it takes. Because you know that ultimately, you’re not fighting with each other. You are fighting for your marriage.
Author’s note: Download my free eBook on marriage called “5 Lies You Need To Stop Believing About Marriage” at www.honestchristian.org/free-ebook/.