Marriage,  Stories

Perfecting the art of fighting

There’s no such thing as a quarrel-proof marriage. Everyone knows that. Misunderstandings and arguments are to be expected in any kind of relationship, more so in one as intimate as that between husband and wife.

But knowing this fact is one thing. Actually living through it and finding ways to make the marriage stronger—flying plates and hurtful rhetoric aside—is another.

Sun Tzu might as well have had domestic squabbles in mind when he committed his bestselling “Art of War” to paper. He’s the wiseguy who once quipped, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”

The Joker meets Ms. Prim & Proper

And what’s more chaotic and contains more learning opportunities than Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So waging their mini-Battle of Leyte Gulf?

But even without a background in ancient Chinese military strategy, Jun and Marion Cruz, who said their “I do’s” on Dec. 7, 1991, have learned to fight each other “artfully” in the course of close to three decades of being together.

“We have realized that fighting is not something that we just do. There has to be a purpose to it. We have to see fighting not as an end in itself, but as a means to make ourselves better. It is a phase that we must go through,” said Jun, whose marriage to Marion has been blessed with four children: Erika, 25; Ysabel, 24; Danic, 22; and Pio, 16.

No two persons could be more different.

Jun is an easy-going former seminarian from an ordinary Filipino household whose mother—the classic doting Pampangueña we only hear in stories these days—treated him and his siblings like little emperors and empresses as best she could despite not having much in the way of material wealth. Not one to take himself too seriously, Jun likes to crack jokes and is very much the guy you can depend on so much so that he finds himself often in a position of responsibility, particularly in his Catholic community, Ligaya ng Panginoon, which he used to head.

Meanwhile, Marion is the prim-and-proper psychologist-turned-preschool teacher-turned-principal who had practically been raised in the lap of luxury in a mansion staffed by a small army of servants and chauffeurs. She is also an introvert who easily gets offended by another’s straightforward talk, but whose natural honesty compels her to speak her mind just the same.

You could just imagine the adjustments the two had to make for the sake of their marriage.

But adjusting is not always easy to do. It took a major health crisis in the family before the Cruzes finally got it: that the root cause of most marital discord is not the proverbial “third party” or the unmentionable “Other” but hurtfully communicated thoughts and feelings masquerading as something else and a total disregard for what irks the other.

Battle Royale

Sometime in 2008, unknown to the both of them, Jun had a mysterious health problem that made him more impatient and moody than he already was, to the point that he could not help saying nasty things to the emotionally sensitive Marion.

Their weekly one-on-one, which was supposedly a time for them to exchange updates and views about their work, their children, and about each other, would often erupt into a mini World War 3 of sorts with little warning.

“I was scared that we would just end up fighting, but we knew we needed to communicate. It was hard because we had no idea then that something was wrong with him, which was causing him to lose it even over the pettiest things,” Marion shared.

It lasted like that for quite awhile until it became obvious that Jun was losing weight abnormally fast. It turned out that Jun’s Jekyll-and-Hyde moments were hormonal in nature, finding its root in a thyroid problem.

It was such a relief for both to pinpoint the culprit. And with the help of medication and with their firm resolve to love each other come what may, Jun’s health—and temper—improved. Convinced that there was something wrong with how they handled their differences, the Cruzes soon began attending relationship seminars that would help them streamline their communication dynamics and seeking the guidance and wisdom of more mature couples they both looked up to.

“Outbursts of emotion on the part of either spouse is just a signal that there’s an issue he or she needs [to address]. You don’t have to feel attacked or be on the defensive so that you can respond to it in a positive way,” explained Jun.

Compliments, affirmation

Moreover, Marion stressed that couples should be generous in giving each other compliments and words of affirmation, and should always assure themselves that they have each other’s back.

“Looking back, I’ve realized that our previous fights and arguments focused more on the ‘you’s’ rather than ‘I’s.’ It was always about ‘You, you, you’ … Healthy marriages should focus on the “We”. Also, husbands and wives must learn to use ‘I Messages’ so that the other won’t feel judged,” she added, explaining in detail how it helps for spouses to phrase their sentiments by talking about how they feel instead of being accusatory.

Talking to the Cruzes, it is safe to say that many a couple’s quarrel are not just mutual overreactions to underappreciated or misinterpreted situations, a misunderstanding arising from lack of considerate and sensitive communication. It is the lack of a “Big Time Vision” for our marriages; that if marriages are made in heaven, then our marriage partners should lead us to that “Big Time Banquet.”

If couples everywhere would only learn to sit down, swallow their pride, and talk out their angst out over a cup of coffee, the world would be a happier place. If couples can’t help fighting, then fight for their marriage, and not against each other, but with each other.


Raymond Sebastian

From Paranaque City, Raymond A. Sebastian is our resident church historian, self-appointed film critic and aficionado of Ingmar and Bergman and Guiseppe Tornatore films. He likes browsing book stores, cooking kare-kare, and spreading Marian devotion. An avid collector and reader, his private library boasts hundreds of volumes of classical literature probably in an effort to commemorate the lost Library of Alexandria.

One Comment

  • Levy Madrigal

    Thanks for this article! I strongly agree that using “I” messages instead of “you” messages makes effective communication! We have learned and used this technique for 5 years now.

    Hope you can have more articles about better communication in the family. God bless!

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