The argument prescription

Bob Brody Essayist, LettersToMyKids.org
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“A good fight with your spouse may be good for your health, research suggests. … Anger-suppressing couples were nearly five times more likely to both be dead 17 years later, the study found.” ~ University of Michigan School of Public Health

For many years my wife and I never argued with each other. Only now do we see how keeping our grudges all bottled up probably cost us our health.

Precisely because we had failed to resolve our deeply rooted conflicts with each other, for example, I one day experienced my back suddenly falling off. We thus saw no choice but to take up a daily regimen of health-promoting arguing.

To start, we would get everything out on the table for at least 90 minutes a day, three days a week, arguing vigorously enough to get us aerobic. We would warm up first — loosening our vocal cords and facial muscles — lest we dislodge an ancient resentment too fast and twist a tendon.

Right away, though, we had some unforeseen issues. That first night we argued for at least an hour about what issue we should argue about in the first place. The next night we argued about which of us should be entitled to start our arguments.

Soon our new approach to connubial stability and longevity got on track. We disputed whether day was better than night. We were at loggerheads over how we would choose, if we had to, between air and water.

All this back and forth turned out to be exhilarating. Still, we always made sure never, under any circumstances, to argue immediately after a full meal.

Over the next few weeks we finally told each other everything we once suppressed as unsayable. At long last I came clean about how much I hated her habit of breathing during dinner. Likewise, she lashed into me for blinking while awake.

Within mere months our routine yielded impressive benefits. All the bickering left my wife too winded to inhale with any regularity, enabling her finally to quit smoking cigarettes. My jaw grew so sore I could now control my portions at meals. Before long a neighborhood orthopedist was able to reinstall my back.

With our health status now demonstrably improved, we decided to up the ante, figuring that arguing longer, harder and more often would mean better results. We argued in front of friends. After going hoarse, we argued in American Sign Language.

One day, though, we found ourselves arguing about whether we should argue less. The next day we even argued over whether to stop arguing for good. We questioned whether living longer would really be worth all the sacrifice.

Our long-term outlook had gradually turned bleak. Against all odds, we now faced a new risk. We had truly come to terms with each other.

Bob Brody, a public-relations executive and essayist in New York City, has contributed humor to Smithsonian, McSweeney’s and Forbes.com, among other publications.