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Couples who understand often become understood
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- He bleeds the “maroon and white” of Mississippi State University while she proudly wears the “red and blue” of the University of Mississippi. He loves walking the Drill Field while she prefers tailgating in the Grove.
He whistles “Hail State,” and she drowns him out with “Forward, Rebels.” He bellows, “We got some dogs up in here,” and she responds with a firm, “Here we go Rebels, here we go.”
Can this “mixed” marriage of fiercely loyal sports rivals survive? Tabitha Staier, family education specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said the marriage can even thrive if both partners approach disagreement with a good sense of humor, frequent communication and realistic expectations.
Couples can be driven apart by differences they hold about politics, finances, children, work, religion and even sports. Discord between two people in a marriage is normal. The overly simplistic portrayal by the popular media of blissful couples only perpetuates the fantasy of Prince Charming and Cinderella living happily ever after, Staier said.
“In a relationship, there will be conflict,” Staier continued. “More importantly, however, is not what you fight about, but how you fight.”
How can a couple have a constructive fight? Both partners need to recognize destructive fighting patterns they unconsciously choose, she said. Traps that inevitably lead to profound unhappiness and divorce include:
- Criticism: “You always” or “You never.”
- Contempt: “I would never do that.”
- Defensiveness: “I don't do that.”
- Stonewalling: “I don't want to hear it.”
Staier said stonewalling, or a refusal to talk, can do the greatest amount of harm to a relationship because it breaks down emotional intimacy, a lifeline a couple must have for a marriage to thrive and grow.
“Stonewalling usually results when people feel overwhelmed; it is a physiological response,” she said.
Discussions that escalate into shouting and screaming don't help either. A short break from talking may be necessary. A time-out is not a refusal to talk but a promise to talk later, Staier explained.
“In the heat of the battle, a couple can take a healthy time-out to cool down, get emotions under control and become comfortable with each other,” she said. “The key is making an agreement to revisit the discussion in a reasonable amount of time when both partners are calmer.”
Sports fans, like others who hold passionate opinions, get caught up in the conflict rather than the process of working through a disagreement.
Many couples who are in “mixed” marriages have learned that sports, like most other problems, are insignificant in the scheme of life. Retired Starkville pharmacist Marion Booth and his wife, Jeannette, have been on opposite sides of the State-Ole Miss rivalry since their marriage began Thanksgiving Day in 1956.
He's an Ole Miss man and pharmacy graduate; she's a loyal State fan and was a full-time employee at MSU for more than 40 years. They sent their sons, Tommy and Cade, to State because of the major each one chose, not from loyalty to any particular school. Her car carries a “house divided” car tag, but that's more of a fun poke at the rivalry between the two universities.
“My advice is to remember that it's just a game, nothing more,” Marion Booth said. “Jeannette and I can watch the Egg Bowl, tease each other and offer a little sympathy.”
Couples like the Booths exemplify a husband and wife who have developed “relationship insurance” from learning to communicate, Staier said.
“Newlyweds and soon-to-be-weds should approach marriage as an opportunity to understand where this other person is coming from, rather than trying to change them,” she said. “Remaining close friends and maintaining good communication, even regarding difficult topics, are the keys to a strong, successful marriage.”
A more peaceful post-Egg Bowl may be forthcoming, too.