FOR JENNIFER Jeanne Patterson and Mathias Samuel, year one of marriage brought more verbal combat and clashing than conjugal bliss. Almost immediately, an unforeseen enormity of differences emerged, from how husband and wife preferred to spend Saturday mornings (he: chores; she: snores) to how they defined a fib (she believed an omission is a lie; he believed in getting off on technicalities—did we mention he’s a lawyer?). In short, their Barbie Dream House sometimes seemed more like the House of Commons. And Patterson documented every debate, every word they wished they had back. Patterson’s book 52 Fights: A Newlywed’s Confession, recently published by Penguin Group, chronicles both serious spats (emotional infidelity) and petty provocations (Samuel won’t let Patterson turn up the thermostat, so she wears enough clothes to bed to put Samuel’s libido in the deep freeze). The result is a diary of dashed expectations and the compromises that rose from the remains—a look at marriage so honest you can practically hear the crunch of worlds colliding.
What was the dumbest thing you guys quarreled about?
He says: I told Jennifer the furnace would blow up if she kept the temperature at 75.
She says: We still, to this day, fight over the temperature.
What was the most serious clash?
She says: I wanted to quit my job and write. And Matt wanted me to keep working, which I wouldn’t have had a problem with, but Matt has fairly luxurious tastes…and that’s when I thought, We have such different approaches to life. I’m not materialistic, and I’d rather have the freedom to do what I choose than be trapped by these material possessions. Whereas Matt likes nice things. The hard thing wasn’t the fight itself but the deeper question of Are we seeing life the same way?
Matt, I understand you didn’t fully realize how much friction there had been between you and Jennifer until you read a draft of her book.
He says: I think a lot of men are pretty easy to keep happy. And Jen’s beautiful; she’s funny. I was living with her, going to bed with her every night. What more could I really want? Jen wants emotional connections…and I wasn’t getting that. I was thinking, Yes, this is great!
She says: The truth is that during that first year, Matt had fewer emotional expectations than I did. But I definitely think he felt some friction.
What’s the worst thing you can do in a fight? For instance, I knew someone who threw a framed picture of Buddha at her boyfriend, which seemed really wrong somehow.
She says: Anytime you step over that line where you’re disrespectful to your partner, you can create ill will.
He says: Yeah, that’s when everything goes bad. But the book’s title is probably a little bit misleading. It really should be 52 Negotiations That We Grew Through—though obviously, that’s not as sexy as 52 Fights.
She says: If you’re not fighting, you’re not communicating—you’re different people, you have needs that you want to make sure are being met in your marriage.
Fast-forward to February 14. What might men and women instinctively disagree on when it comes to celebrating this day?
She says: It depends. Are you getting me a gift this year, Matt?
He says: For married men, Valentine’s Day is just a lot of work. When you’re dating, it’s a great time—you wine and dine your date—and once you’re married, you really have to step up and perform. Usually men fall short of the expectations of women.
She says: Some men don’t understand how much women emotionally interpret what they do or don’t do. When Matt leaves for work in the morning and I say, “Can you take out the garbage?”, and later I see the garbage is still there, I think, “What? Your job’s more important?” Here’s my prediction: two days before Valentine’s Day, I’ll say, “Matt, what are we doing for Valentine’s Day?” And he’ll say, “It’s a surprise,” which means, “Omigosh, Valentine’s Day is two days away—I forgot.”