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A Tie With Which To Strangle Him

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My husband and I are having our annual summer fight. This summer, we are focusing the fight on an upcoming trip to China where we have been invited to dine with government officials. The suggested dress code, says our trip itinerary, is a dress for me and a jacket and tie for him.

I lost him at jacket, but tie is where things really heated up.

For the record, if we were actually fighting about a jacket and tie, I would give him credit for making some very compelling arguments: We are traveling carry-on only, as we always do. Every article of clothing we pack, right down to the two pair of travel underwear that dry overnight, must earn its keep in our bag. Bringing along a jacket and tie that will be worn for three hours of an almost two-week trip makes little or no sense.

Besides, he points out, we live in Malibu where the most under-dressed man in the room is frequently the most important one. "Let's impress the Chinese with understatement," he said. And when that didn't sway me, he alternately tried, "Let's impress the Chinese with our individuality/defiance/self-confidence/ignorance."

But we both realize that we aren't really arguing about a tie. We are arguing because it is simply our time to argue. We are good for four fights a year and seem to maintain a nice seasonal balance.

In the first quarter of the year, we fight over how I/we spent too much over the holidays. Half the success in a marriage is agreement over how to spend your disposable time and disposable income. Like every other family, our disposable income seems to have shrunk. We fight increasingly over money, how to get more of it and how to spend less of it.

In the spring we argue over whether our kids would be doing better in school if the other one of us would just occasionally please jump in and help more with homework. Truth is, I do language arts and he does math. What we really need is to clone a third parent for everything that comes in between.

Come fall, as the year closes, we tend to fight over our failures -- what savings goals we didn't reach, what weight we didn't lose, what exercise regimen we didn't start.

And then there is summer -- the creative fighting season, as I like to call it. We can fight over just about anything in the summer; it's kind of open season in the world of disagreements. And this year, we are fighting over whether he has to bring a jacket and tie to China.

What we both know is that in every long-term relationship, once in awhile you need to let off steam. We save up the small injustices along the way and four times a year unleash them. The stated reason for the quarrel has nothing to do with what's really going on. What we are doing is having a little rumble so that the big earthquake doesn't flatten our home.

Just like most couples, we annoy each other in a million little ways every day. But we also get one another and understand that any two people who live together for as long as we have are bound to annoy one another. So instead of harping and sniping every day, we subconsciously store it up and unleash it four times a year. We never discussed the four-fights-a-year plan; it just evolved.

All of which leads me back to the jacket and tie. I will undoubtedly let him win this one and he knows it. I won't embarrass him in front of our Chinese hosts by explaining that we really meant no offense or that my husband probably hasn't worn a tie to dinner since our wedding and that came off before the cake was cut. I won't make excuses about not having any room in the carry-on bag and how I really wanted to bring a second pair of wash-out-every-night underwear instead. No, I'll let it go and just appreciate the fact that he's even making this trip with me, missing not only his favorite baseball team's visit but also a week of watching the Olympics on TV.

But don't kid yourself. I've got my sights on the fall fight and there better not be any accusatory fingers pointed at my unused treadmill.

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