life in a tiny apartment.

March 27, 2013

Tip #57: Play a love song.

Doling out marriage advice isn’t something I really feel qualified to do. I’ll wax expert on tiny-apartment living all day, but an expert on a happy marriage? Come back to me in a few years. Still, readers write in on a fairly frequent basis asking how we survive moments of marital strife in a tiny space. Mostly the call for help is something along the lines of nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. In keeping with this week’s national discussion of marriage, here’s a trick for surviving a fight in a tiny apartment with your husband, or wife, or anything you got now.
I’m a 0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat kind of person.  I blow up easily, I feel bad about blowing up, and then I want an immediate recovery. I do cry out loud, I don’t keep it inside. James is the opposite. Of course. He’s quiet and contemplative during arguments. It drives me bonkers. Where I want to talk through things right away–often while my temper is still flaring–James needs a minute to separate himself. I can be pretty bad about giving it to him, and not just because there’s nowhere for him to hide in our tiny space. 
I’m trying a new trick that is kind of mortifying to write about, but I’m going to anyway:
Play a love song.
Sometimes creating emotional distance from the fight itself is more important than creating physical distance. It’s really hard to keep your blood boiling when you listen to a song that you love, with the person who you love, about love. It’s kind of like putting on a lullaby to soothe a crying baby. If you force yourself to listen through a song, even if you’re hot-tempered like me, you might just give yourself and your loved one the time that you need, as James would say, to “bring it down a notch.” This is an old favorite.
We also sometimes scurry up the stairs* to the loft, or sequester ourselves in the bathroom, but neither of these options are really very helpful. Especially if you’re James…I follow him up there every single time, poor thing.
*PS. James and I repainted our stairs this past weekend. Game changer. 

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  • Reply lauren March 27, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    pre-youtube, i had a phase when joe and i lived in a (small) apartment in san francisco in which, when we fought (operatically, as 22-year-olds do), i would dash out of the apartment to physically acquire the song i needed. one night i ran all the way down to the old tower records on bay street for let it bleed, then came back and played "you can't always get what you want" all night. and smoked inside and flopped dramatically all over the furniture, as one does.

  • Reply annton beate Schmidt March 27, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    this is the best advice, I have read about in a long time. being a quickly exploding person myself, I can totally relate to your description. especially the following. gosh, I can act so bad. poor husband. seriously. and I do believe you have a point there, maybe it is not the physical distance we might need, but the emotional one. so, a love song it will be. thank you.

  • Reply Lost In Cheeseland March 27, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Such good advice. In our small apartment, the bathroom is usually the only spot for temporary isolation but it doesn't smoothe things over. I've never tried the love song technique but I sense its value!

  • Reply Chloe Moon March 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    I'm learning the "there is nowhere to go" logic in my tiny condo & man does it affect arguments. Maybe playing a love song to calm down is a great idea I could try. I've been trying to do what your husband does…take a moment collect my thoughts & then go in knowing this will not be a final battle just some misunderstanding that needs to be addressed, well hopefully! =)

    Ergo – Blog

  • Reply Tanu March 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    i pretty much do the same. a good love song is such an escape. also it helps to "bring it down a notch."

  • Reply Cyndi March 27, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    I've been reading your blog for a while, and I had to comment on this one. It's so funny when you regularly read someone's blog- you think you have an idea of their personality. I've pictured you as quiet and maybe a little shy, and it was so surprising to read you're a 0-60 person. (Not that you can't be all of the above!) I yelled out loud, "ME TOO!" It was nice reading that, and finding some solidarity in it. Even the best marriages forgive those of us who gotta cry it out, talk it out, yell it out, EMOTE. Thanks for the beautiful post!

  • Reply Sam | ashore March 27, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Erin, I appreciate your simple life advice (and apartment advice!) so much (sometimes they're kind of the same thing, huh?). I shared a studio apartment with a man I loved once and then with my sister … and I totally understand what you mean by the challenge of "physical space" on rocky days. Theres nowhere to call your girlfriends to "talk it out". My best coping strategy was to take a bubble bath when I became a bit snippy. Sure, it was a relaxing activity … but the important thing was that bathrooms have an acceptable occupancy of one! I'll have to try the love song. Thanks for sharing even the mushy stuff.

  • Reply Janelle @ Two Cups Of Happy March 27, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    I totally hole myself up in the bathroom. My man has also made it VERY clear to me that he will not sleep on the couch for any reason, meaning if we fight I either have to suck it up and sleep in the bed or make my way out to the couch. Haha. Luckily, I haven't had to yet! 🙂

  • Reply March 28, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Loved this advice!

  • Reply March 28, 2013 at 3:48 am

    I can so relate to this, Erin! Right now, my husband and I are in a tiny, corporate apartment and we have really changed (improved?) the way we fight. I'll say "I'm going into another room!" which is really open and connected to the room he's in. Then we laugh. Then (usually) it subsides. Love this post. xo

  • Reply megan March 28, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Thanks for sharing, I think we're a mix of these fighting styles. I'm the 'zero to sixty' one but when I get into that zone I need space and it drives my boyfriend crazy, he'll follow me anywhere to fix the fight so as you described James climbing the stairs to get a breath I could see myself doing the same and my mister following me up those stairs 🙂 I'd be rolling my eyes wishing there were ten more flights and I could just keep climbing.

  • Reply Cara of Big Girls, Small Kitchen March 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I'm so glad you shared this!

  • Reply fibreandspice March 28, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Such great and simple advice.

  • Reply IndiaMorgan March 28, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    love when e writes about love.

  • Reply Ginna March 28, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    I love this post! And Kelly Willis absolutely makes everything better!

  • Reply Michelle Annett March 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I am the same way as you and my husband the same as yours! I always follow him around the house when he tries to get some distance or time to think during a fight.

  • Reply Inge March 31, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I'm exactly the same! I'll have to try this trick sometimes, though I fear I'll not be able to.

  • Reply dervla @ The Curator April 1, 2013 at 3:30 am

    Eeek! I don't know if i can be patient enough to go grab my phone to play the song! I'll try it though. I've also heard these tips: put on oven gloves when you're arguing because it's seriously hard to fight when you're laughing at your partner waving an oven glove around. Also, fight naked. 🙂

  • Reply Erin April 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm


    "I'm a 0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat kind of person. I blow up easily, I feel bad about blowing up, and then I want an immediate recovery. I do cry out loud, I don't keep it inside. James is the opposite. Of course. He's quiet and contemplative during arguments. It drives me bonkers. Where I want to talk through things right away–often while my temper is still flaring–James needs a minute to separate himself. I can be pretty bad about giving it to him"

    …is me to a T, and I am an Erin as well. I find myself focusing more on letting him have his time to get through whatever we're dealing with to be the thing that lets me cool off myself. It's so tempting to just yell and maybe throw your keys in the driveway. Maybe. But, so much better to come back and talk things through. He's gotten better at LETTING me talk things through as well. Keep on keepin on!

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