My wife wanted me to walk down to the dingy basement and put the towels, that had just finished washing, in the dryer. I have a tendency to get absorbed by my work, so she asked me to do it before I started. I ignored her request (read got carried away) and started my work instead.

It did not go over very well. She blew up, I got my feelings hurt, and stormed off as we were trying to hash things out. For me, that’s not normal. Walking away is not something I do. I listen, let my wife speak her piece and try my hardest to understand where she’s coming from. I don’t always succeed, but I’m at least showing her my intent to engage in civil discourse and attempt to see things from her point of view.

Walking away invalidates her feelings. Walking away allows further tension to build. Walking away means something is wrong.

Marital tiffs, and conflicts of any nature, do not exist in a vaccuum. It’s never just about mildewey towels. The real issues are often hidden and it takes difficult, often times, painful work to unearth them. Sometimes that work happens over the course of the argument itself. Sometimes it occurs over long periods of reflection after the incident. Either way, digging closer to the root is always beneficial.

In a way, I’m grateful. Each tiny skirmish surfaces the need to address a larger, less evident tension. It’s not the most pleasant way to be given a wake-up call, but treat it as such and it’s damn effective. In other words, use conflicts as opportunities for growth. Don’t worry about who’s wrong or right. Don’t even worry about trying to convince the other person. Recognize that there’s something bubbling beneath the surface. Focus on that instead.