De-escalate any marital fight with this question

De-escalate any marital fight with this question

We’ve hacked a way to inject a small dose of serenity into our marriage. It’s brief, easy to schedule, and does wonders for the sparse intimacy afforded to us by our young kids.

The no-kids car ride.

Yes, even a 20 minute trip to make an IKEA return can produce a burst of bliss. After all, just the absence of Mother Goose Club, the snack requests, and the mental tax of impending projectile vomit can make those 20 minutes feel like you’re back on your honeymoon in one of those over-water bungalows.

The best part, we get to play our own music – The National, Travis Scott, Hot Chip – anything… but Mother Goose Club.

However, last week’s romantic getaway was punctured by the inevitable marital tiff. It wasn’t about Economy Plus (one of our mainstays) nor the “you work too much” (a close runner up). Instead it was about the music selection itself.

Eager to listen to Tool’s first album in 13 years (and to celebrate the end of their Spotify hold out), we popped in Fear Inoculum. We reminsced about seeing A Perfect Circle (a Tool project band) at the Barclays Center and prepared our plans to see Tool at the Staples Arena.

Then came the fight. What band is harder, Tool or A Perfect Circle?

Principal Component Analysis

Bond investors have a simple method to evaluate a potential investment called Principal Component Analysis (“PCA”). The bond market is notoriously complex, as a single issuer (like IBM) can have hundreds of different bonds, each with different maturities, interest rates, and structural features.

But it turns out that all of these bonds can be evaluated by three simple variables thanks to the Principal Component Analysis method. This YouTube video shows how a teapot could be reduced to two axis.

I promise you that there’s a link between Tool, the bond market, and marriage. But first, back to our fight.

Lisa referenced certain songs she listened to while in junior high (Sober). I played the “expert card” puffing my chest about having seen every NYC performance since 1996 (including an epic Roseland show for Aenima). Lisa had listened to Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan on many a Joe Rogan podcast. I made up some bullshit about the drummer’s aggressive use of the bass drum.

By the end, we were locked into an intense game of the silent treatment. And in our mutual animosity, we were failing to see the banality of this argument. We were arguing about trees, completely oblivious to the forest.

What would a marriage expert say?

In John Gottman’s classic 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work (which we’ve both read) he gives a similar example of a couple where a couple argues about the husband’s driving speed.

He always tells her the same thing, that he’s never had an accident, he’s an assertive driver not an aggressive one. She ends up yelling that he’s selfish and doesn’t care that his speeding scares her. He retorts that the real problem is her lack of trust in him. Each time they have this squabble, they feel all the more frustrated and hurt and entrenched in their positions. There’s a lot of vilifying on both sides.

Just like Tool vs A Perfect Circle, the argument is clearly not about the driving speed:

They are really arguing about Big Issues like trust, security, selfishness. To keep their ongoing battles over driving from ruining their marriage, they’ll need to understand the deeper meaning that this battle has for each of them.

Gottman’s Big Issues are effectively the Principle Components of the relationship. In our marriage these recurring components are mutual appreciation, feeling heard, and the equality (or lack thereof) in parenting roles.

And a compassionate question to de-escalate the fight before it ruins the entire car ride: What’s the Big Issue here?

(For the record, Tool is way harder.)

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Khe Hy
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Khe Hy is the creator of RadReads.