Happy Marriage 101: Don’t raise your voice, yell at your spouse

I was eating lunch with my wife a few days ago when she said that in hindsight she is thankful for a rule I established early on in our relationship. I told her many years ago that I would never raise my voice with her, but that I would expect the same treatment in return. I said I was willing to end the relationship if she could not abide by the rule.

This seems like a common sense condition, but it does not take long to realize that many people do not follow it — even in public. In fact, some people claim that yelling adds “passion” to a relationship. I would argue that screaming at a spouse and calling the ordeal an aphrodisiac is a form of denial; it is dysfunction masquerading as love.

When a person raises his or her voice in an argument, it is a sign of desperation. It indicates a loss of control. The couple immediately enters an emotional realm that is conducive to mental and physical violence, which is why it is exponentially embarrassing if the man is the one who raised his voice first.

Yelling at someone does not add legitimacy to an argument, but for some reason many individuals think increased decibel-levels magically perform such a function.

Raising your voice does denote anger, but a healthier way of conveying that feeling is to simply say, “I am angry.” If you say what you mean and mean what you say with your spouse on a regular basis, then that statement alone will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

As was already mentioned, a man should never yell at his significant other. The vast majority of men are physically stronger than the women in their life, so ending a disagreement by introducing the specter of violence — even if the man has never physically harmed his wife — is  cowardly, wrong, and ipso facto detrimental to the long-term health of the relationship.

“Anybody can become angry,” Aristotle wrote. “That is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not … easy.”

Anger is a natural feeling, and in general there is nothing wrong with feeling anger. The key is to channel that anger in healthy ways. If you struggle with this task, then I suggest checking out the book “Overcoming Sinful Anger,” by Rev. T.G. Morrow. It is a short book, but one filled with advice that will leave you happier and healthier if you take his words to heart.

RELATED: Ten tips for a stable relationship

Ten tips for a stable relationship

There are only so many national security threats a blogger can cover before he needs to create something a bit more uplifting. Valentine’s Day is over, but it’s never too late to go over tips to a successful relationship.

Douglasernstblog.com has never given out such a list, but there’s a first time for everything. Since I’ve been with the same woman for roughly 13 years (with only a few hiccups along the way), I will now give you one recipe for a healthy relationship.

  • Never swear at your significant other. I have often seen couples who will turn towards “asshole” and “bitch” when they’re angry. They say it doesn’t mean anything, but quite frankly it does. It means a lot. No matter how angry you may get at your significant other, it sends a powerful message if you never go down the rout of expletive-laced tirades.
  • Communication. Communication. Communication. This may sound like common sense, but it’s one that everyone — everyone — falls short of on occasion. Think about how many problems could be squashed if we would just be direct and honest with our significant other instead of letting poisonous thoughts swirl around inside our head until they manifest into arguments. A little communication with a lot of tact goes a long way.
  • Your job is not to fundamentally change your significant other. Political junkies will remember the time President Obama said he planned to fundamentally change America. Note: You do not try to fundamentally change something or someone you love. If you see your significant other as a “project” that needs to be fundamentally changed, then you probably should not be in a relationship with that person. People change, but their “core” self (i.e., spirit) is incredibly stable. If you find yourself trying to change your partner’s core traits, then something is probably wrong — with you.
  • Consciously work on growing together so you do not grow apart. If you’ve ever watched ivy growing up a wall (e.g., Chicago’s Wrigley Field), you’ll notice how it can twist and turn and overlap. You and your significant other will change over time, but in many ways you should grow like ivy: you should be separate, but one. Sometimes people fall in love with a very specific person at a very specific moment in time, and then seem to want to keep that person physically, mentally, and spiritually frozen in that moment forever. It doesn’t work. That is why it is important that you fall in love with the “core” or “root” of a person instead of the outer branches of their personality. If you don’t realize that the person you fell in love with at 20 may have many different interests at 30, then you will be in for some painful days down the road.
  • Don’t hold grudges. This is easier said than done for a lot of people, but it’s extremely important. If you can’t “wipe the slate clean” relatively quickly, then it will cause a lot of unnecessary suffering. People do stupid things. Sometimes they almost wreck your car. Sometimes they forget to pay bills. Sometimes they make insensitive comments. If you live in the past, then your present and your future will pay the price.
  • It’s not always about you. If you have always identified with the Peanuts character Lucy van Pelt, there’s a good chance that you will have some rocky romances before finally realizing that a pinch of “Linus” makes relationships run much more smoothly. There is a difference between having a “take charge” attitude and being a bossy jerk. Most people get bossed around at work. The last thing they want is to be ordered around when they come home at night.
  • Stick to your principles. No one likes a push-over. If someone knows your principles, then they may get irritated from time-to-time when a situation demands that you stand firm, but deep down they’ll respect you. You don’t have to have bulging biceps to have a spine of steel — women respect men with backbone.
  • Demand excellence at all times — from yourself. If you are your own toughest critic, then there is a good chance your significant other will never “nag” you. If you exude excellence, then it makes no sense for those around you to harp on the little things — you’ll have already taken care of them.
  • Employ random acts of kindness. Besides the fact that random acts of kindness make you less predictable (in a good way), this sort of behavior has a way of “infecting” the person targeted so that they return the favor. Random acts of kindness create a positive feedback loop that is hard to reverse.
  • Say “I love you” regularly. This may sound strange at first. In fact, your significant other may even sigh with exasperation — but do not relent! If you truly mean it, then they will never get tired of hearing you say those three words. You can never truly love someone too much, but you can definitely love a soul too little. If you exclaim your love every day, then it will yield enormous benefits for years to come.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. These ten tips are simply a few of the things that have helped me sustain a relationship with my girlfriend (now wife) for over a decade. If I’ve left anything out, then feel free to add to it in the comments section below. If you have any questions, then feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer.

Clueless sociologists writing on marriage should read the Bible — or watch Pacific Rim

Since sociologists who write on marriage are too lazy (or afraid) to address the religious aspect to the institution, perhaps they would learn something from watching 'Pacific Rim' this summer. Just think of the 'mind meld' as something you'd find close Mark 10:8.
Since sociologists who write on marriage for the New York Times are too lazy (or afraid) to address the religious and spiritual aspects of the institution, perhaps they could learn something from watching ‘Pacific Rim’ this summer. They could just think of the ‘mind meld’ as something they’d find around Mark 10:8.

Andrew J. Cherlin is a sociologist and the author of ‘The Marriage-Go Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today.’ He’s apparently studied marriage for three decades, which is sad because he doesn’t seem to have learned very much over the years.

Amazon.com’s plug for the new book reads:

Andrew J. Cherlin’s three decades of study have shown him that marriage in America is a social and political battlefield in a way that it isn’t in other developed countries. Americans marry and divorce more often and have more live-in partners than Europeans, and gay Americans have more interest in legalizing same-sex marriage. The difference comes from Americans’ embrace of two contradictory cultural ideals: marriage, a formal commitment to share one’s life with another; and individualism, which emphasizes personal choice and self-development. Religion and law in America reinforce both of these behavioral poles, fueling turmoil in our family life and heated debate in our public life.

Wrong. Marriage and individualism are only “contradictory cultural ideals” in the world of clueless sociologist clowns writing pseudo-intellectual psycho-babble in the Opinion section of the New York Times.

Here’s an excerpt from Cherlin’s NYT’s piece, which oddly enough never mentions the words ‘God’ or ‘love’ once:

IT’S surprising how many people still marry. As everyone knows, it’s a risky proposition; the divorce rate, though down from its peak of one in two marriages in the early 1980s, remains substantial. Besides, you can have a perfectly respectable life these days without marrying. …

Marriage has become a status symbol — a highly regarded marker of a successful personal life. This transformed meaning is evident in the Obama administration’s briefs in the two same-sex marriage cases now in front of the Supreme Court. Those documents reflect, in part, the assumption that marriage represents not only a bundle of rights but also a privileged position. …

In the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Justice Department wrote that marriage “confers a special validation of the relationship between two individuals and conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match.” …

Today, marriage is more discretionary than ever, and also more distinctive. It is something young adults do after they and their live-in partners have good jobs and a nice apartment. It has become the capstone experience of personal life — the last brick put in place after everything else is set. People marry to show their family and friends how well their lives are going, even if deep down they are unsure whether their partnership will last a lifetime.

How is it possible to write an entire op-ed on marriage and not mention the words ‘love’ or ‘God’ once? As of 2010, roughly 75 million Catholics live in the United States, and yet no mention of God, Mr. Cherlin? Gallup found that as of 2012, 77% of Americans identify with a Christian religion, and yet no mention of God, Mr. Cherlin? I suppose it’s much easier to redefine marriage when one takes any mention of God out of the equation and replaces religious elements with words like “status symbol” and “capstone,” but one would think that academics with an agenda would hide their tracks a little easier. The smart kid who cheats on his spelling test always gets a few wrong on purpose because a 100% by a kid who has never shown he was capable of delivering such a score is mighty fishy. In short, Mr. Cherlin is probably not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

But I digress. Back to the issue at hand, which is that marriage and individualism are not contradictory in the least. The astute reader will realize that there is another word missing from Cherlin’s opinion piece: ‘compromise.’

It is entirely possible for two people to embrace individualism while also being 100% dedicated to another person. The two are not mutually exclusive, and anyone who understands the nature of compromise knows the two can coexist.

Since Mr. Cherlin is afraid to touch the Bible, I will. Mark 10:6 – 10:9 reads:

“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. And the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together let no man separate.”

Again, perhaps I’m just a rube, but if tens of millions of Americans draw some sort of basic understanding about the nature of marriage from the Bible, it might be worth maybe-sorta-kinda looking into it. Just a thought.

Regardless, my point stands: On the most important level, I do not view myself as a separate entity from my wife because we are spiritually tied together. We are spiritually one. And so, it would make no sense for me to not try and aid her in reaching her full potential, just as I’m sure she feels the same way about me and my long-term goals.

If I were to lash out and hurt my wife, I would be hurting myself. If I was to cause her unnecessary emotional distress, it would ultimately be my own spirit that was damaged. There is no reason for me to work at odds with my wife because it would be similar to me picking up something with my left hand and then slapping it out with my right. It would make no sense.

Mr. Cherlin’s refusal to try and understand what individualism is to a man and a woman who see themselves as spiritually one unit hurts him. It’s a very complex subject, which is another reason why I suspect he avoided it all together.

With that said, I might still buy ‘The Marriage-Go Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today,’ if for no other reason than to make me laugh.

And since this blog is supposed to mix politics with pop culture, here’s another analogy for marriage: the “mind meld” from Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. For sociologists who are too scared to study the Bible, it’s a dumbed-down version of two essentially becoming one.

Why Marriage Matters

It wasn’t until my own marriage took place that I realized how important the institution of marriage really is. The little bits of wisdom I laughed at in my youth have piled up high over the years, to the point where I now have a silo filled with shoulda, woulda, couldas.

Humans are like metal, all of us with our purities and imperfections. When two people come together in a healthy marriage, a mental and spiritual metallurgy takes place, similar to the super alloys we see in the aerospace industry (admittedly not the most romantic analogy, but I’m going for accuracy, ladies).

Imagine the Air Force’s best fighter jet, and the kind of stresses that it must withstand during the course of its lifetime. When two people commit to spend their lives together, in essence they become one, and the implications of that union are felt immediately by the psyche. A married man, who knows he has a wife by his side, carries himself in a different manner. He’s much more confident and mentally strong, because he knows that if he ever stumbles there is someone there for him. A married man knows that there is nothing he can not accomplish, because a support structure is there to buttress him from the weight of workplace and professional setbacks, criticism, and bad breaks. The professional arena rewards confidence backed up with results, and it’s much easier to concentrate on performance when someone behind the scenes is stoking the fires of optimism in the heart, sanding the rough edges of the soul, and making sure that the creative wells never run dry.

Anyone who has forged metal knows it’s an intense process—like marriage—which is why “no fault” divorces and celebrity marriage fiascoes, complete with the drive-through divorce days or months later, are so destructive to our societal fabric. That’s not to say there are instances where it “doesn’t work out,” but by and large society’s expectations about marriage, what it is, and what it entails happens to be completely detached from reality. Sadly, we live in a society that nourishes narcissism. Individuals are expected to view themselves as the center of the universe, which might not be a problem if they actually knew how the universe worked…

The celestial bodies balanced in space (much more delicately than we realize) spin and circle and dance around each other, but there’s a synchronization to it all. One who views himself as the earth in his marriage shouldn’t forget that he needs the moon. The Sun is the brightest light in the sky, but if the planets and stars around it were aligned differently it might very well collapse in on itself. There’s a give and play to marriage that isn’t about one person not getting their way—nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a relief to the mind, the body, and the soul when one person can periodically give up control because they know their partner is going to lead them to someplace they wanted to go.

Two people who live together for a long time can have a healthy relationship, but there is an almost-unconscious change that happens to the married couple. When someone has taken an official oath to be faithful their spouse, those last little tinctures of doubt or questions about fidelity fade away. Those two individuals—again, now one—know that they have become the sole proprietor of their destiny, and the incentive to succeed goes off the charts.

While we can never go back and erase past mistakes, we can prevent others from walking into similar minefields. If this blog prevents even one person from getting hurt or from hurting someone else, I’ll have considered it a success. Marriage matters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.