Rabbi Raffi Bilek
How I Avoided an Argument (and You Can Too!)
This is a true story.
I got really irritated with my wife the other day (I am sharing this with her permission), and I avoided losing my cool. I thought it would be worth sharing, in the hopes that in can inspire you to do the same.
I was at the library, waiting outside for them to come out and deliver the books my kids had ordered online, since the library was still not open for visitors. It was taking a rather long time, possibly owing to the fact that my kids had ordered a rather large number of books. (They don’t actually read them, they kind of just flip the pages and move on to the next one. Or so I assume, since the rate at which they read books would otherwise be hard to explain.)
Suddenly, there was a ring upon my phone. It was my wife. She was calling me from the grocery store. She was already running late for carpool and had a cart full of unpaid-for groceries. Could I come take over for her and check out since she needed to leave to pick up the kids immediately?
I was not exuberant, to say the least. Instantly I started thinking thoughts about how ridiculous this was and how her time management skills needed a serious uplift. A black squiggly line actually appeared over my head to demonstrate how irritated I was.
At the time, it seemed extremely important to point out what a colossal blunder she had just made, and how she should have hurried up, and how she needs to learn how to end her client sessions on time, and so forth. These were all things she absolutely needed to hear at that moment.
Fortunately, I am decently successful at following my own advice and I shut my big yap, apart from irritably agreeing to head over there and pay for the groceries. This is a major rule in avoiding an argument:
Strike while the iron is cold.
Nothing good ever comes from responding to a provocation in the moment. So I didn’t. My big yap remained shut.
Next, as I drove over to the grocery store, I began to replace thoughts like this:
“She really does need to stop running overtime with her clients.”
with thoughts like this:
“She sure does an awful lot for the family.”
To be sure, the first statement is probably true. And were I to dwell on that, I would probably just get angrier. But I didn’t. Because the second statement is equally true. And dwelling on that one leads to shalom bayis, whereas dwelling on the first one leads to not that.
Here are some other true statements I thought about:
She is super on top of getting groceries, all the time.
And she sees clients to bring in more money for us.
And this is the first time this has ever happened.
And she’s also going to drive carpool now, which I would definitely not like to have to do.
And she makes me dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY.
By this point, it was getting hard to stay mad at her. I kept going.
Really, it’s not like she’s slacking. I can’t ever remember seeing her scroll through Facebook when there were things to be done.
She is busy with taking care of our family all day long. She barely has time to think.
There are an awful lot more positive statements I could have come up with. Maybe there are plenty of negative ones too. I don’t think about those too much. I’m much happier when I focus on how incredibly much my wife does for me. Hence, rule #2 for today:
Focus on the good things s/he does for you.
By the time I saw my wife back at home, my annoyance level was close to zero. It wasn’t zero, but it was close. And she was apologetic, which helped.
Had I spent all that time I was dealing with the groceries (I had no idea how much gets bought in a single shopping trip – wow) grumbling to myself and criticizing my wife in my mind, there likely would have been a much more unpleasant interaction when we reconvened. But I was far less irritable at that point because I had taken charge of what was going on in my brain throughout.
This is how you avoid an argument. Did my wife mess up? Yes. I am no tzaddik, for if I were, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest and I would have just gone to help with the same aplomb as I if I were attending to the tasks I had actually planned to do for myself (picking up my pants from the dry cleaner, in this case). No, I was annoyed from the get-go. But I chose to handle myself in a way that did not lead to an argument. In fact, it essentially became a non-issue. We went about our day. Maybe at some point I’ll have a convo with her again about ending on time.
In the meantime, I’m super in love with my wife and I avoided unnecessary wear and tear on the relationship, all at no cost, no hidden charges, and fat free to boost.
Totally worth it.