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She will annoy you, irritate you, and possibly stir violence in your heart. At some point, you are going to wish her ill of all kinds. This does not mean anybody has done anything wrong. In fact, this is par for the course when it comes to love.
In my college days, I dated Helen, a pre-med student with an angry streak. I had seen her angry while on the phone with her parents, but she’d never blown up at me. That changed one October afternoon. Helen had just mentioned her ex-boyfriend again. She was trying to convince me to skip some classes and drive to a club with her and some friends.
Bringing up her ex and his willingness to jump at her every wish wasn’t a good way of winning me over. I told her such and suddenly met the Helen I’d only wondered about before.
In one admirably smooth motion, she swung from the hip with her right fist. I caught it with one hand. She swung with her left and got the strike. I shouldn’t have tried to dodge her because it only served to put my nose in the way.
I looked at her, blood streaming down my face.
“Did you seriously think that was going to help?” I asked.
“I…I don’t know what I thought. I’m so sorry! Can…can I get you a cloth or some ice?” She stammered.
I was outraged. I wanted to commit unspeakable horrors against this angry 5’5″ fireball. Horrors including a speeding train, collapsing bridges, and a flying walrus.
At about the same time the bleeding stopped, I had gained some clarity concerning our relationship. I would have written Helen off for using physical violence except I’m a huge guy and had tried to stop her without setting down my sandwich. I now held the bread to my nose. I hadn’t planned on finishing it anyway.
Sounds adolescent and silly, right?
Yet many of the arguments we participate in as couples fall into the same category!
- We fight about money when the real issue is not how we feel about the bank balance but how we feel about each other.
- We fight about sex when the problems in the bedroom started with inattentiveness in the kitchen!
- We take small cues from our loved one to be big signals and overreact to complaints and criticism that come our way.
We fight for the win when a win on either side means a loss for the whole.
Helen and I were able to set our young relationship back on its feet because I didn’t take the bloody nose seriously and wanted to understand what drove her to the argument. Had I just written her off because of her crazed behavior, the relationship would have perished. (Knowing what I do now, I would have walked away. But that’s in the past.)
There is no reason to ever put up with physical violence or even threats of it in a relationship. If you cannot solve a problem in your relationship without resorting to violence, it’s time to go. That said, when it comes to arguing in a relationship, we often give up too easily!
I believe we should embrace arguments as a different and intense way of communicating blurred thoughts. Understand that many of the things your partner says in anger are new to their ears too. Comprehending this can make it easier to get past the momentary cruelties of an argument and focus on the greater intentions. To quote my friend Linnet Woods:
Usually, the thing that a person expresses as the reason they are angry is not the real reason at all. Fearing that the real reason would be too difficult to discuss, the person will express a lesser gripe.
The desire to defend oneself against a perceived attack can make one fail to listen and learn. It is not dangerous to let your partner speak his, or her, mind and let them see that you are giving what they have to say your consideration, accepting it as being no less valid than your own perception, however different.
Once it becomes apparent that you are really listening, it is difficult for a person to continue to shout because it isn’t necessary for them to do so. When they have finished speaking, a wise idea is to ask, very gently, if there is anything else that is bothering them. Very often, the thing that comes up next is what was actually causing them to be so distressed in the first place.
A typical example is fights over leaving the lavatory seat up, or down, or the lid off the toothpaste tube. Those rows aren’t about the subject being aired, they are about respect, consideration and other such issues but to broach those might open a can of worms so trivial things are picked instead.
Serious angry conversations should happen rarely if people are really interested in one another. When you live in confined quarters, constantly together, you need to be polite and appreciative of one another at all times and tolerant of each other’s foibles. [Linnet knows about this sort of thing. She’s lived on a small boat with her husband for years!]
A really good relationship takes effort on both sides but, in time, less and less effort is required to bring out the best in each other and have a wonderful life.
Arguing isn’t easy and it’s rarely fun, but it’s possibly the most efficient way to clarify and improve a relationship. Don’t fear it!
Many of you already know this, but for you newbies: the person who can push your angry buttons the best will probably know the most about pushing your “other” buttons. There’s nothing boring or vanilla about make-up sex.
I’m not saying you should pick fights just so you can make-up…but it’s another reason to approach arguments with an eye for solutions! =)
As always, I truly welcome your thoughts!
Photo credit: Steve Wampler
This post was first published on Dec 17, 2008. It has been updated & reformatted for your enjoyment.