Every couple fights. Some more than others. Some in a healthy manner and some not so healthy. We tend to act as if fighting is a sport. Hopefully someday we’ll learn better and fight fair. And healthy. Until then, you’ll continue to read about fighting.
She Says: The Root of Our Fights
I think it was Katherine Hepburn who said “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” And from time to time, I can see how this makes sense.
Since we’ve been in Salt Lake, I’ve seen three different friends wander aimlessly through divorce, fighting viciously with their soon-to-be-ex every step of the way. Initially, it kind of makes you wonder whose brilliant idea marriage was in the first place. Then suddenly you step back and look at the people divorcing. More often than not, it makes perfect sense that perhaps they just should have never married in the first place.
And why should they have never married in the first place? Because either they, or their spouse, is selfish.
Now you might disagree, say, believing that men and women are so biologically different that they will never understand each other. And that this misunderstanding leads to confusion, frustration, irritation and ultimately ugly arguments that just create unhappiness.
From my experience, however, I say that my husband’s manliness really has nothing to do with the heated arguments that often ensue. And I think he would agree that my womanliness really has nothing to do with them either … although the PMS bomb has been dropped a time or two amidst our “discussions.”
In the end though, I think we would both agree that our fights are born out of selfishness. And that that selfishness could ultimately lead to the demise of our relationship, as it has for friends. I want him to see it my way because I am right. He wants me to see it his way because he is right. I want him to spend time with my friends because that’s what’s fun to me. He wants me to hang out at home watching the game because that’s what’s fun to him. He wants us to stop eating out so we save more money. I want to take a quarterly bonus check and spend it all on new shoes. The list will forever go on, but you get the point.
You see, if I just said one day “I don’t care about buying new shoes this month” (which will never happen, but for the sake of example, let’s just go with it), I can guarantee that it would save several eye rolls and prevent a handful of curse words from being mumbled under a certain someone’s breath. So why don’t I just say it from time to time? I don’t say it – or do it – because I’m selfish. I’m not willing to listen to his side with regard to making the sacrifice. I want it my way. Period.
“They’re just shoes though. Who cares?” you say. Sure. Just shoes. But imagine those divorced friends who apply that same selfishness to bigger issues in a marriage—religion, raising children, monogamy. I am fortunate enough that I don’t have such arguments in my marriage yet, but you can see how individuals who share different morals and values, yet still marry, end up in divorce. And fight terrible fights along the whole way.
The first is that selfishness is okay in small doses, but only at the right time and for legitimate reasons. Buying shoes in the same fashion I have been will more than likely not end my marriage. In the meantime, it’s a guilty pleasure that he is willing to just mumble about.
As soon as the small doses of selfishness erupt into regular arguments, it’s time to reassess. One of my girlfriends who recently got divorced did so on account of her husband’s infidelity. He began by innocently spending time with other women friends. As he continued to push the boundaries, thinking only of his own needs, the results were devastating. Had he stepped back and thought of his wife first and the promises he made to her, the outcome would have surely been different.
And last, being unselfish tends to be a conscious effort you have to make every day when you’re in a relationship. What sacrifice will help keep peace? What small gesture will make the other person more comfortable? What harsh comment can be said differently or left unsaid altogether to make a potential argument just a discussion?
Perhaps if each person in a relationship acted unselfishly, there would be fewer fights. And the notion of a man and woman living under the same roof, instead of as neighbors visiting from time to time, wouldn’t be so bad.
He Says: The More We Understand Each Other…
We’ve written in the past about the topic of fighting in relationships and we’ll likely do so again in the future. It is such a common occurrence in any relationship that it seems many people can relate. In all honesty, if you spend hours of every day, and days of every year, and, sometimes, years of your life, with one person, there are bound to be arguments. Plenty of them. Sometimes those arguments are healthy, relationship-building discussions and disagreements. Those much older and wiser than my wife and I have likely learned the art of healthy disagreement. My beautiful counterpart and I, however, still find it necessary to act like petulant children that have begun to skirmish on the schoolyard. We’ll learn someday hopefully. And I think we’ll both admit that we’re much better than we were when we first met. But no matter how well things are going in our relationship, we’ll always find a fight lurking around the corner. It’s partially our own immaturity and partially the simple fact that disagreements will arise when spending that much time with each other. What I try to work on is not avoiding the arguments, but learning how to make them constructive.
I had a philosophy professor years ago that drove home the point that us humans are a species of communicative beings. We want to be heard and we want to be understood. We flock together with like-minded people. We congregate in communities with individuals from similar backgrounds and experiences. And when you think about it, that is somewhat natural. Even for those of us that don’t directly dwell in a familiar setting, we still look for people and things to which we can relate. When we travel to a foreign land, we immediately look for things that we can understand and search for people that can understand us. And this small point, the simple idea that we are communicative beings, I think this holds a large truth to fighting constructively in our relationships.
It has often been said that the root of many disagreements in relationships is the need to be right. While I don’t disagree with this sentiment, I find it to be short of the entire truth. Often times serious disagreements are not spawned out of the need to be right or prove the other wrong, but out of the simple fact that we want to be heard. We’re communicative beings and we want to be heard. The problem that many of us have, including myself, is that we don’t hear other people. We don’t allow others the opportunity to be heard. And when we’re amidst an argument, this multiplies a hundred fold. I am a strong believer that disagreements and arguments in any relationship are beneficial and healthy if done well. The problem is that when most of us argue, we don’t do it well. The moment a disagreement occurs, we no longer allow the other person the opportunity to be heard. Listening to understand is different than listening to agree or disagree. The problem I have is that I usually listen to agree or disagree. When my wife and I are in argument, I immediately begin to listen to what she is saying and think about whether I agree with her or disagree with her. But when I do this, I am taking away her opportunity to be understood and I myself am not being understanding.
There are countless studies about the mental state people enter into as they begin to argue. Specifically, when anger or hurt builds up through the course of an argument. I am no doctor of medicine or doctor of psychology, so I am unable to get particular with any of the details. (Which, let’s be honest, is a good thing. Because if you are one of the few readers of this blog, you certainly aren’t coming here for an educational experience). What these countless studies have shown, however, among other things, is that as we argue and the more heated those arguments become, the more irrational we become. A striking realization right? Sarcasm aside, these studies have shown that the chemical makeup in our brain changes and as a result our ability to make logical, rational decisions is hindered. While experience would tell us this is obvious, take a moment to think about that. You actually have a chemical shift in your brain that will affect your ability to reason. You are no longer in a rational state and you make irrational decisions.
So, I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s all well and good, but what’s the point? You’ve told me that I become an idiot when I fight and get angry. You told me I’m irrational. Nice job Einstein.” And yes, I realize that point in and of itself is rather insignificant. (Although I do think the physiology of our arguments and the inability to reason is fascinating). However, if you find yourself amidst an argument and know that your ability to think rationally is beginning to be hindered, it is more than likely that your partner in this donnybrook is also finding him or herself encountered by the same hindrance as well. It is likely your partner is also finding it difficult to think rationally. And when someone has left a rational state, whether it is because they are angry or they have been hurt, recently or well in the past, or for any number of reasons, I believe there is only one way at this point to bring someone back to a rational state. You need to first understand to lead people back to a rational state. And to understand, we need to allow each other the opportunity to be understood.
So the next time you find yourself amidst a heated disagreement, stop to think. Am I listening to agree or disagree or am I listening to understand? The next time your wife or girlfriend explains how your actions made her feel, give her the opportunity to explain. Sometimes the feelings we have towards a situation may not reflect the reality of that situation, but they are still feelings that the other is having all the same, and they need to be understood. And the next time your husband or your boyfriend wants to voice how he thinks he’s constantly being nagged to do something, give him the opportunity to go into detail. It doesn’t mean the way he perceives the situation is accurate, but it does allow him the chance to be understood. In the end, we all simply want to be understood, so why not give each other that chance, especially those we love the most.