Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Learning to fight, and fight fair

I don't know how you are when you fight?

For me, I've had to learn how to fight, and I'm still learning to fight constructively.

For years, I just didn't fight, or at least, not much, and not in any direct way. It's not that I wanted to be passive-agressive. I just didn't know how to have a face-to-face fight.

So it has been a challenge figuring out how to fight directly, and fight fair. To take what's making me angry and to address it in a constructive way.

I mean, sometimes you are just too hormonal or tired or whatever to be productive. Sometimes you're just out-and-out itching for a fight, for no good reason. Or the reason you think isn't the real reason, which you don't realize till later.

But sometimes, you know what it is, and you need to say it. Or to hear the other person, and respond.

My tendency when I'm really angry is to lash out. You make me hurt, I'll pay you back five-fold.

Nick is similar. He's quicker to anger, but has more restraint during the argument.

You make me really mad? You hurt my feelings? Yeah, well let me remind you how much your family sucks and doesn't come through for you. Let me give you five recent examples.

Even though that has nothing to do with the precise matter at hand.

See how not constructive this might be in a marriage?

A couple weeks ago, Nick came home all sullen, in a swirling black mood of doom, which is really rare for him. It lasted all night. It blanketed the morning.

And as we were having breakfast, he said a couple terrible things. That I took in the worst possible way.

So I made an analogy that possibly included his mother. (I know, I know.)

It turns out what he heard - which is not what I said - was, "You're wrong about how you're feeling. Oh, and your mother sucks."

And this made him even angrier. As it might.

I knew there was no way that I could get to any reasonable place within the conversation. And so I said, "I cannot do this right now." And I got up and left.

I walked out. Ran down the stairs. Clump clump clump clump clump. And then next stairs. Clump clump clump clump clump.

I grabbed my stuff. I heard Nick behind me. Clomp clomp clomp clomp clomp.

I hurried down the next flight. (We have many a stair, in case you're wondering.) I heard him behind me, and I quickened my pace. Clumpclumpclumpclumpclump. Locked the door behind me and hastened down the street.

I'm pretty sure the chill of the morning kept my head from melting.

We talked a couple hours later, when we were both calmer. That night, we had a really good, in-depth conversation. We listened, we heard each other, and we are ultimately stronger for it.

It made me feel like I'd made some strides in the constructiveness department.

Although I must admit I did mutter, "Just try and catch up with me, fat man." through clenched teeth all the way to work that morning.


  1. Wow, this post is perfect timing. The boyfriend and I got into a fight last night over the DUMBEST thing. We rarely fight, but when we do, all hell breaks loose. We say nasty things in the heat of the moment, then go into separate rooms (or leave the house, as I did in this case). Once things have cooled down, we can usually talk about it level-headedly, but the actual fight portion is the opposite of constructive.

    It's definitely something we've gotten better at, but there is definitely a learning curve.

  2. It's HARD, isn't it? In the moment, it's impossible to recognize you're fighting over something stupid. And when it's something important, it's even more difficult to hear the other person when your head is full of anger.

  3. It is SO SO hard not to dredge up all the little crap that has nothing to do with the present fight. My hubby and I sound like you and Nick. We have to make a concerted effort not to go for the juggler. Glad it got resolved for you guys. And I LOL at "try to catch me fat man!"

  4. What has been hard for me (and/or someone I might argue with from time to time) is to hear what the other person said, instead of what The Creature (constructed from the memories of previous significant others' worst qualities all melded into one being) said.

    For example, I might have been about to say, "Well, maybe you should think about what you really want", and the other party might have stopped listening to ME at "well, maybe you should" and heard The Creature say "go ahead and leave, then".

    Having a third party in one's arguments is most definitely NOT constructive. The Creature is likely the one who said, "Oh, and your mother sucks."

  5. I am a horrible fighter. I'm quick and fiery and I say stupid things that I know will make the biggest impact. Fighting like a grownup is something I struggle with (for example, I would have shouted "Just try and catch up with me, fat man" as I clomped down the stairs instead of muttering it under my breath.)

  6. Ugh, after just having a huge fight with my husband this week, I totally hear you. Although ours was about something that was a really big deal, I realized that I take everything SO personally that it's hard for me to "fight fair" and move on. I really want to hash things out right then, but my husband needs time to think (at least a day). It pains me to wait, but when I do he always is ready with a plan to apologize and move forward.

  7. It's wonderful you've made strides. Arguing is not fun but happens to everyone, exactly as you explained. Mumbling under your breath - too funny, I do that too!

    I am really emotional so the tears start first. Luke doesn't respond to tears well and comes from a family who prefers silent treatment to yelling. So, learning how the other person engages in an argument is helpful. Name-calling and cursing (out loud at least) is not good for us - Luke and I both find that really hurtful and unproductive.

  8. cla517 - It is good that you make a concerted effort to be decent to each other. In the moment, it's so tempting to say the worst.

    Hillary - I feel like I've come a ways with this but I have a ways to go. I am always tempted to say the meanest thing and don't always succeed in not doing so. I don't know if I fight like a grownup but I am trying.

    Tia - Nick and I are both hasher outers, but sometimes the other really really needs cool-down time. Sometimes he gets too mad to speak to me, and I just have to let it sit for a bit. It pains me as well, and it's not typical for me to be in that place. I'm usually one to push the conversation.

    HKW - Yah, neither of us are name callers, and if we curse it's an exclamation rather than directed at the other person. You are totally right. It's about learning how the other person argues and working together...and that's hard! The silent treatment makes me insane.

  9. Husband came home two weeks ago and said he'd had the worst day of his professional career. And within three seconds I knew we'd be in a corker of a fight. I was correct. Such situations are the worst.

  10. When I first read the title, I thought you meant PHYSICALLY fight, and I wondered what kind of unfair kidney punching you had going on.

    As to verbal fighting - I am THE WORST. My husband and I have been together for a total of 18 years, and I am ashamed to say that there are occasions when it takes every bit of strength I have to NOT retaliate in a way that will hurt him the most. Because I want to WIN, no matter what.

    We've gotten better, mostly because there were times when things were very, very bad and it was either fix the way we communicate or stop communicating all together. NOT fun, but when you have two v. v. hard-headed people, it's a hard lesson to learn.

  11. I got married when I was 20 and we never fought, because I refused to engage. And then one day I realized all the little hurts that I had swallowed for years and years had rolled like waves against the cliff that was our marriage, undercutting it until I just didn't care anymore and it crumbled away. And I left. And I still feel guilty to this day.

    Then I got married again and I was determined not to let it happen twice. So I fought. But I didn't know how to fight, see? Not fair anyway. And I have said some truly toxic things. Things I wish I had never let out there (even if I thought them with my whole being at the time). And you can't unring a bell.

    I'm still learning. But I've had breakthroughs exactly like you've described. And its like a little triumph each time.

  12. oh man, i can't fight with people who don't fight like me. it never goes well. because i come from a family of fighters - it was how we communicated. so i get mad, i cry, i get snippy, i get heated, i say what i need to and just like that it's over. most people don't do this - i just need to get it out. i'm not mad afterward, just needed to express myself. it's bizarre.
    anyway, sounds like you and Nick have it all worked out... and i love that you ran down all those stairs and mocked him under your breath! whatever works.


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