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I would never have admitted to being afraid of conflict back then. Not in my marriage anyway. I’d read all the books about how marriage is hard work and conflict is normal and I knew we were definitely the exception. But then at some point that first year, I realized two things: we were not the world’s most exceptional couple after all, and I was, indeed, afraid of conflict.  If we argued, even after I’d apologized a million times, I was very afraid I had failed. Like I had torn a little piece off our marriage that couldn’t ever go back.

So Newlywed Kristin determined after every fight to never “mess up” again. I would perfect our relationship by being PERFECT. But it didn’t work that way.

This winter we were staying with my in-laws in Michigan. The day before our tenth anniversary, during our 3-year-old twins’s nap hour, my husband and I made a quick coffee run. We were only gone for 20 minutes.

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“Oh yeah, they were quiet the whole time!” The bachelor uncle told us when we got home. But a peek into the twin’s room told a different story. Upon entering, it was immediately apparent the twins had found and consumed an entire pound of chocolate.

I had hidden the chocolates in a high-up sort of place, but there it was—chocolate walls, chocolate carpet, chocolate on top AND beneath the brand-new guest bedding. It must have been a wonderful time they had. Just imagine—eating more chocolate than you’d ever seen while rolling in luxurious faux-fur throw pillows with your best friend. They were sitting on a mirror they had pulled off the wall, smacking it with their chocolatey hands and laughing uncontrollably at their chocolatey reflections.

That night, abuzz with caffeine, the twins didn’t sleep. They were sharing our room at my in-law’s house and from midnight until 4 a.m., they would not lie down. Fighting us, crying, “I’m not sleepy! I’m just a KID!” At 3:30 a.m., I started to cry too and David started to suggest things. We both said harsh words and both felt offended and, in the end, I squeezed into the pack-n-play with the loudest twin and eventually, we all woke up with ringing headaches and hurt feelings on the morning of our tenth anniversary.

What saved our anniversary from ruination this year? It wasn’t my early efforts to craft a perfect conflict-free marriage. Newlywed Kristin didn’t practice “a soft answer turns away wrath” while sleep-deprived after an all-day laundry festival in the middle of a month of zero downtime. No. It wasn’t my perfection, it was a decade of fighting and—more importantly—making up that saved our anniversary. The Great Chocolate Argument could have spoiled an earlier anniversary, but thanks to ten years of practice, we got over it like a speed bump to a monster truck.

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I learned recently that working out—putting stress on your muscles—actually causes tiny micro-tears. Your muscles grow in strength and mass as these tiny tears come back together. That’s why giving your muscles time to recover between workouts is so important.

In the same way, the greatest growth in a relationship comes when a couple consistently mends tears. If a marriage is never stressed, it never develops the strength to withstand stress. And if recovery isn’t prioritized, the tears can result in permanent damage and ultimate brokenness.

I wish I could tell Newlywed Kristin this, although she wouldn’t have believed me. I wish I could tell her it wasn’t wasted, those early spats that felt like monumental personal failures. I wish I could tell her consistent practice in relationship mending was not weakening our marriage, but building something stronger and more beautiful than what we had at the beginning.

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Kristin Mangin

I’m Kristin Mangin, and I’m the playground mom who asks how old your kids are—not because I care about your kid’s ages, but because I want to connect with another mom. I’m the friend you text when it’s snowing because you know I love weather. Once, while running out to the car in the freezing rain, my toddler squinted up at the sky and said, “WOOOOW! What a BEAUTIFUL DAY!” My husband laughed, “She's YOU,” he said. That’s what my writing seeks to do. Connect with you and help you look up and see the beauty that is your life, right now, in this season.

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