Fighting mad Spouses and squabbles come as a package deal

April 16, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

"I'm very organized, and he's much less so," Nina Tassi says.

"I'm chaotic, she's very organized," Aldo Tassi agrees.

"He says I have a penchant for throwing out the newspapers," says Mrs. Tassi, a writer and consultant. "He would leave things around for 30 years if he could."

"Of course, it gets infuriating when she organizes my desk," says Mr. Tassi, a philosophy professor at Loyola. "Then I can't find anything."

Ah, couples and their fights. We're not talking about call-the-cops or file-for-divorce kind of fighting, but rather the common squabbles, misunderstandings and raised voices between men and women that can, well, make one want to toss a lamp at one's beloved.

That's how Hillary Rodham Clinton arms herself for fights with her husband, our president, according to rumors, published in Newsweek and Washingtonian magazines recently, that have titillated first-family watchers. Loud voices, curse words and lamps or urns are said to fly through the White House when Bill and Hillary have a dispute, or so the gossip has it.

And what delicious gossip it is -- it brings these high-powered, ridiculously resume-rich people down to our level, says Shirley Glass, an Owings Mills-based psychologist and marital therapist.

"Here are these two extraordinarily brilliant people: To hear that they get down to expressing themselves this way, that they get down to this lowest common denominator, is so amusing to us," Dr. Glass says. "It kind of says to people: Everybody fights."

Indeed. While some couples claim never to fight, most agree that no two people living under the same roof will always see eye-to-eye.

"Differences are inevitable. You can't be intimate without them," says Mary Anne Cordahl, a psychologist in Ellicott City. "When you're dancing close, you're going to step on toes."

"When people say, 'My parents never fought,' I wonder, what did they do?" says psychologist Stephen Kelly, Dr. Cordahl's husband. "Were they walking on eggshells around each other?"

It's not fighting per se that should cause concern, psychologists say, but the wrong kind of fighting. "If you fight about everything, then you have an emotional maturity problem," Dr. Kelly says. "There are things that are important in life, and they're important enough to fight about. But you have to play your chips."

He and other psychologists talk about "fair fighting": no hitting below the belt, no ugly name-calling and no "kitchen-sinking," meaning resurrecting every past and unrelated transgression rather than focusing on the issue at hand.

And then there's the issue of throwing things -- not punches or anything else that will cause injury, but that sort of aural exclamation point signaling that one person is very angry. No one interviewed for this story, however, would publicly admit to having anything more than angry words during fights -- one woman privately said she'll occasionally throw pillows or other soft objects to make sure her partner knows she means business.

Sometimes, not fighting is worse than fighting, Dr. Kelly says, especially when one partner silently builds up a resentment over something instead of talking about the problem when it first comes up. He once had a client who had been married about 20 years when, one day, his wife just stopped cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids and even talking to him.

"This went on for months, and finally he asked what was going on," Dr. Kelly relates. "She said she'd had to take care of the house, the kids, the bills and everything, and she never got any thanks for it. A fight would have been better -- this was cold warfare.

"I'll see an individual who tells me how angry he is with his wife. I'll say, 'When did this start?' He says, 'When we first married.' And they've been married 21 years," Dr. Kelly adds. "I had one client who, when the wife got angry, she would start running up the bills on the credit cards and then hiding them. Some people get angry and start having affairs. There are better ways of showing anger."

Some couples are afraid to show anger, he says, especially if there are kids in the house. Calm, rational disagreements are not necessarily anything to worry about, and they can nip those small irritants in the bud before they become giant issues, he says. Couples shouldn't worry about being seen or heard fighting unless that's all they're seen or heard doing, Dr. Kelly says.

"Mary Anne and I have raised five kids together, and they've seen us fight. But they've also seen us play. They've seen our affection for one another and how we make our time together important," he says. "We definitely disagree on things from time to time, but they're resolvable."

Then, of course, there are couples like Pam and Andy Goresh, who live in Ellicott City and have been married almost 19 years: They claim never to argue. And, no, they say, they're not lying about it, repressing all disputes or so disinterested in each other that there's nothing worth fighting about.

"We're both passionate individuals, but that doesn't mean we have to throw things," says Mrs. Goresh, who works at home raising their two daughters and editing a monthly newsletter. "I do not like arguments and yelling and shouting. . . . I couldn't imagine treating my husband like that."

"There are some people who enjoy it, just like they enjoy haggling over the price of a car," says Mr. Goresh, a lawyer. "I just don't see conflict as inevitable."

The Tassis say they think their differences in style and opinions serve to make them a balanced, complementary couple -- and, in fact, this July, they'll celebrate 33 years of a very happy marriage.

"Of course, Nina would think that is because we sat down and organized everything," Mr. Tassi says. "I think it's because of good luck."

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