Understand Why You’re Fighting to Solve Arguments
I get home after a long day at work, with screaming bosses, backstabbing coworkers, and a self-destructing project that I’m on the hook to fix and which could have big consequences for my continued employment if I don’t figure out.
I walk in the door, and it’s the usual blur as I jump into Dad role, helping with homework, refereeing a fight, sitting down to dinner, then doing the dishes while my wife tells me about her day and frustrations.
As my wife talks I try to listen and respond despite my genetic manfault of not being able to multitask very well, which means specifically that I struggle to hear her while I’m trying to figure out how to get everything into the dishwasher.
When I finally get a chance to sit down on the couch next to her when the kids are squared away, I flip on the game… and she wants to talk more. All I want to do is zone out and let my punch-drunk brain and body marinate for a bit. But, she talks at me, and my attention wanders, and it’s not long before I realize that she’s asking me if I’m listening to her… and I’m not. Now her feelings are hurt, and that leads to a fight…
My wife and I have the same fights over and over. Maybe the circumstances are different each time, but the underlying themes repeat. As do the outcomes… or lack them.
Like all couples, we fight.
Why are we fighting? Often, the fights come down to issues of different expectations, many of which we have never talked about, where each of us assumes something completely different.
Or there’s a difference of perception; she feels that I did something that seemed selfish to her, or didn’t consider her and her needs or how it would make her look or feel. To me, often what I did seemed perfectly reasonable and rational, and I don’t understand what the big deal is. Which, to her, further proves I’m a jerk.
Or, she gets mad when she feels I ignore her, or don’t listen to her, like in the story that started this post. (If you haven’t done so already, download my free eBook, “Why Men Don’t Listen,” which is free to everyone who signs up for a free membership to this site.
Other times she says that I’m distant, or don’t care about her. That I don’t invite her into my life. To me, her assertions seem to come out of nowhere: I wasn’t shutting her out, I just didn’t have much to say, and I’m certainly not unhappy!
Some good portion of these things have to do with differences between men and women and how we think and communicate.
Contributing is our different expectations, as well as our differing needs for talk, empathy and companionship. And this isn’t just between genders, it’s between any two people.
And then there’s always conflict around sex. Given the stresses my wife experiences though the day, and her exhaustion and frustration levels, she is often too wound up or too tired for sex. Me, I’m much more ready to work off some stress with a bit of energetic sexual exercise. So, our mismatched libidos can be a source of frustration as well.
Sometimes, my wife feels that I don’t like her, or even feels that I hate her, particularly if we’ve had a fight. When she says things like this, I’m shocked. We had a fight, we’ll work things out. No two people are ever going to agree on everything. But that does knock me out of complacency, and usually motivates me to have a hard conversation I really don’t want to have –you know, one where I have to talk about my feelings or something I’d just as happily not talk about—which then gives her what she really wants, reassurance that I like and love her just as much as I ever have. I suspect that ultimately, and perhaps subconsciously, she makes these assertions as her way of getting what she wants : my attention, emotional connection and reassurance of our bond.
Interestingly, such conversations usually end up with me apologizing for whatever the fight was originally about, and me agreeing to do whatever it was she wanted me to do in the first place.
Why else do we fight? Money is always a good one… we disagree on what to spend, what to save, and what’s important. Often, the fight is really about power and control than about the actual money.
We fight about time… we don’t have much to spare, and anything one of us does can be seen as being at the expense of the other. Think of it this way: if I want to go meet some guys for a beer, who’s left on duty to get the kids fed, bathed, in their jammies and in bed? She is. And the same is true in reverse if she wants to meet her girlfriends. And once homework and kids’ sports kick into gear, it gets an order of magnitude harder.
We fight because of our perception that the other should –or should not– be doing something differently. We pass judgment on them and their choices, because ultimately, we feel their actions have an effect on us or show how they feel about us.
And I’ll admit it: we can both sometimes be selfish, thoughtless, irritable, and rude, especially when we’re tired or stressed. We are human. But at the same time, we can both be generous, kind, forgiving and pleasant. We are all a combination of the good and the bad. Even Mother Theresa probably had her bad days.
Fights are inevitable. So make the best of it.
So, we fight. What have we found that works to mend things?
We both try to be grateful, and recognize that for every one irritant, there were probably ten kindnesses that went unnoticed.
When we lash out at each other, we try to admit it, and apologize quickly. We each know how it feels to be on the receiving end.
I ask her to be nice to me, and I try to be nice in return. Her anger can really hurt my feelings, but often this anger is borne of other frustrations rather than my actions. I try to not get mad in return, and try to not lash out in response; that just makes things worse. And when tempers have cooled, we can touch on things and work it out. I apologize, and she apologizes.
I apologize even when I don’t feel I’m necessarily in the wrong. I try to think about how she feels, and often I can see that her feelings were hurt because she felt I wasn’t thinking of her and how she’d feel. So I apologize for this, and try to show her that I’m thinking now about how she felt. I apologize because our relationship is more important to me than my pride.
We try to not fight in front of the kids. But like everybody, we still do. And this isn’t a bad thing… everyone fights. If the kids can see us work things out, that’s good. And if we don’t, that’s okay, too. They can see that people disagree. And if things get too heated, they can see us agree to table things.
Unfortunately, they can also see us exhibit bad behavior as well. Raised voices, unfounded accusations, perhaps even one or the other storming off once in a while. And there’s a lesson in such events as well, of what not to do. Especially when they see us apologize and work things out later.
And there have been times when we haven’t worked things out, or not for a long time. Times when, frankly, I have been a jerk. And so has she. Of course both of us think our actions are stellar examples of principle and maturity at the time. But, over time, we’ve learned that we are each still growing, and are not perfect. We accept each other’s faults, and that neither of us are perfect. Although one of us might still say she’s more perfect than the other. 😉
What’s the different between those who stay together, and those who don’t?
In my opinion, it’s the willingness to talk, to listen, and to do the hard work of talking things through. Admitting that perhaps you aren’t always right, or that there’s more than one way to see things.
Staying together is also showing you care enough about your partner and your relationship to be honest and open, and if necessary to make changes.
It’s to think about your partner, and how your choices impact them.
It’s also to forgive, and to accept differences. To not always need to be right. To respect the other person’s feelings, as well as their opinions, even if you don’t agree.
With enough effort, you can work through any issue, as long as you don’t cross into the big relationship killers of abuse (mental, physical or emotional), adultery (and other betrayals) or abandonment. The best thing to do is to not let it get to that point.
Read the next post in the Keeping the Spark Alive Series: Relationship Issues are Everywhere