Does it matter

Does it matter

A couple came to me worried about their marriage. They were, they said, always disagreeing with each other. Sometimes it reached shouting point. They feared it was going to become violent. They were not newly weds who often fight in the early stages of sharing a shower or the milk at breakfast. Their children had left home some time ago. They were retired, living quietly and, to all outward signs, harmoniously. But they kept disagreeing about which picture should go where, who should walk the dog, what were their priorities for the grandchildren at Christmas.

One thing was immediately apparent. They both had a sense of humour. Not a big, expansive humour, more a quiet giggle together over some trifling thing that tickled them both. They were essentially nice, decent people who kept fighting over what mattered. As you get older more trivial things upset you. Somehow you expect retirement to bring with it contentment, satisfaction, peace. But retirement brings with it even more need for effort than middle age, when you are responsible for everything. The couple wanted to know what to do to alleviate their incessant warfare.

Naturally, I asked them for examples of the issues that caused this conflict. At first they were shy to reveal such petty nonsense but once one of them had had the courage to speak up, the other countered with what they thought was an even greater issue. Each revelation was recited in a higher pitch than the last until it was making both of them breathless to speak. I called a halt to the litany of matters that so divided them, fearing for their lives. I calmed them down with a cup of tea.

Then I suggested that we select some of the points they had advanced and ask the person who had not raised the point “Does it matter?” At first, of course, I was met with a resounding YES by the point maker, delivered as though the sky would fall in if it was not answered their way. I reversed the game and asked the person who had raised the point “Does it matter?” The same intransigence greeted this approach, too. But I noticed the very slightest hesitation in their speed of response, as though they were having to think before speaking.

I changed the question to “Does it REALLY matter?” The hesitations became more evident, the ‘yes’ more muted. Eventually one of them said “Well I suppose if you put it like that, it really doesn’t matter all that much”. “No,” replied the other, ” it really doesn’t, does it?” They promised to play the game for half an hour every day.

They sent me a nice thank you and a cheque for the fee.

And the following Christmas I got a lovely card, signed separately by each of them. Underneath their signatures, in bold letters, was the word, in caps, AGREEING.       

It was the nicest card I got that year.

Good morning

John Bittleston

Do you have a solution to calming disagreements in a marriage? We’d like to hear them, please, if you have.