Tie your life to someone else’s, spend nearly every day with them year after year – and if you don’t fight from time to time, there’s a chance that you may be a robot. The trick, of course, is to find a way to fight that doesn’t lead to all out war.
I like to think that Adam and I have gotten better at this over time, and part of that process has been defining our fights. Knowing that not every little scuffle needs to result in a three day grudge or hurt feelings has really helped in the long run. Below, the three types of fights Adam and I have, how we’ve learned to behave ourselves in each, and ultimately how we kiss and make-up.
This is when you have a lively debate over say, the greatest band of all time or whether or not you think a random law should be in effect. Aka something that doesn’t really make or break you in the long run. They’re throw aways. It’s okay if you have polar opposite opinions. But “the debate” can be sneaky because at first it’s all fun and games and then suddenly someone strikes a nerve or a friendly jab is mistaken for a real punch and bam – things escalate. Once we actually defined what a debate looks like for us, we can go from having one to being perfectly agreeable the very next moment. The trick here is to make a case for yourself without insulting the other person’s perfectly valid opinion. Meaning, just because the person doesn’t “get” your favorite Rolling Stones song doesn’t mean you should scream “Well that’s because you have horrible taste!” at them. Ultimately, just go ahead and get on with your day.
This is what we call a little skirmish, because it’s a a cuter British way of saying the word fight. “The Row” is still a fight, but like, a baby one. Say your partner hasn’t picked up their socks for the millionth time or you get hangry and snap at them for being indecisive. I believe the little things are important in a relationship, but I’m not going to live and die by Adam keeping his half of the closet tidy. There are bigger issues in this world and certainly in our lives. But if left un-mended, a row can ruin a whole day. So as soon as you see the other person wave a white flag (it could be obvious like “I’m sorry” or it could be them reaching out for a hug or cracking a joke) – just throw in the towel and let it go. Also, reminder to not always wait for them to wave the white flag. You’re on the same team, you know.
“The Real Fight”
When it’s not a debate or a row.. it’s a real fight. The ones about the big picture. The words that really need to be spoken and that really deserve to be heard. Here’s what I’ve learned about really fighting….
If at any time emotions are running too high? Hit pause. Take a deep breath or walk into another room and come back. Even go to sleep if you’re exhausted. Is anything productive ever really said past midnight? We don’t follow the rule of ‘never go to bed angry‘ but we do follow the rule of ‘never go to bed without saying I love you‘ – even we have to say it through gritted teeth. Trust me, a clear head and a new day can make all the difference in a real fight.
Choose your words carefully in a real fight. Those words that you want to just shout in the moment? You can never take them back. Ever. They can be forgiven, but sometimes not forgotten. I have a great memory and Adam knows it – so five years from now, if I want to drum up the pain of something he said during a fight and hold it over his head… I easily could. Which means it’s in everyone’s best interest if he doesn’t say them to begin with. While you’re at it though – don’t drum up things from five years ago to use in a current fight. No one can go back and change history – so focus on the present and creating concrete plans for the future. Keep words like always and never to a minimum (people rarely always or never do anything in reality) and instead focus on how their actions have made you feel or how you intended your own actions to be perceived. Be clear about why what you’re fighting about actually matters in the long term.
And perhaps most importantly – you can still be in love in a fight. I swear it’s possible. And it’s super reassuring to your partner to remind them of that. Reach out to hold their hand even when you’re really angry at each other. A small reminder that you’re not going anywhere. Or say ‘Listen – you know I love you for X and Y, but Z is really bothering me for this reason.’ That way they’re not only only hearing a laundry list of all their worst qualities.
Love is what you got you into this mess in the first place, and there’s a good chance it will get you back out again… if you can remember to look for it. So go ahead and fight. Then kiss, make-up and get ready for another round.