One of the under-appreciated joys of a long marriage is that you literally have a lifetime together to argue and fight.
An eternal sparring partner. And arguing with your partner is a sport you can enjoy all year round. Even in the silly season. “Oh, what fun, it is to …” And those ones you have as you’re walking out the door to a Christmas party … well, they really get you in the mood for festive cheer, don’t they?
Some barneys are over in a few minutes. Some blues take half an hour. Others are running battles over months and years.
Some you win. Some you lose.
And just sometimes, a year after an argument started, you get knock-me-down-with-a-feather, stunned-into-silence, when you hear the following:
“It’s okay. You were right.”
I heard that one evening last week. (Coincidentally, a day after we notched up 13 years.) In an argument that, literally, involved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It had been an odd battle. Over the year, there had been a dozen different fronts. Not all were hostile. Some did require diplomacy that would qualify either of us to work on the international solution to the Islamic State issue. But some were just plain nasty.
I didn’t win every battle. Though, clearly, I never copped a Ronda Rousey knock-out kick to the head. Neither did Mrs Debtman.
Despite my betrothed “conceding” defeat, I’m not claiming victory. It wasn’t an argument that had a winner.
It was, actually, simply an argument about two partners agreeing to pull their heads in, to be realistic, to (it’s so simple yet impossible) compromise.
In any survey I’ve ever read, the number one reason for couples breaking up has fighting about finances.
And, in essence, ours was a year-long fight about money. Not who spent what – thought that skirmish opened up briefly about two months ago – but about the joint priorities for our family.
Mrs DebtMan and I want to renovate. The DebtKids will need their own space in a few years. We want to see if we can live in this house for another decade.
First, we chatted. Then we called in builders a year ago. But the rough quotes that came back were twice what we thought it would be.
The quotes were ridiculous. That’s not the builders’ faults. The instructions they were given, by Mrs DebtMan (the point she now concedes), were financially unfeasable, ridiculous, undo-able.
I’d sit at every meeting, shaking my head, as draftsman after draftswoman would try to bend the building envelope like they’d found the fifth dimension.
In recent months, we’d had further discussions. Long discussions inevitably lead to compromises. On both sides. Bottles of red wine were opened around the dining table. Often, second bottles were consumed.
And, finally, we sat down with one of the builders we’d sat with a year ago. This time, with both of us singing (arguing?) from the same song sheet.
What we build from here … who knows. But by not rushing into anything a year ago, we might well have saved a marriage. We are, certainly, far closer to agreeing on what we “want”, what we “need” and what we’re prepared to ditch in order to achieve what we’re after.
Couples and money are a volatile mix. And I wouldn’t say that Mrs DebtMan and I have any fewer fights about matters financial than the average. That is, we’re probably no better at it than anyone else.
Studies tend to suggest it doesn’t matter what you earn, or how much you’re net worth is, fighting about money is the top predictor of divorce.
For middle-aged couples (apparently that’s those aged 35-54), financial fights ranked higher than blues over housework, relatives, tin lids, sex, going out and former partners.
Why the hell would anyone want to discuss former partners?! Seriously? What good could ever come of that conversation?
You’re not going to win all fights with your beau. You shouldn’t even try to.
When it comes to finances, like everything else, be prepared to compromise about your priorities.
Did you really win the argument if your marriage broke up as a result?
(And for fairness sake, in the next 12 months, I will write about a financial argument that I lost.)