Those Are Fighting Words
That first fight as a couple is a very important one. It sets certain precedents for all future fights. It is essential that, in the throes of passion in your first fight with a partner, you take a deep breath and analyze the situation. This fight will predict your behavior (and your partner’s) for all future fights. Are you going to yell or talk calmly? Will he clam up and refuse to talk? Will you give him the silent treatment? Will you go to bed angry? Who will apologize first?
Let me demonstrate with an unflattering story about myself (the best kind, right?). Last fall, I was hanging out at Chef’s bar, and was enjoying a few drinks. He was working that night, so my friend and I just walked around talking with strangers. Chef and I had just become exclusive, and let’s just say I still had a bit of reckless flirting in me. In my alcohol induced state, I found myself casually flirting with a guy in Chef’s bar. I know, I suck. I’m a natural flirt and sometimes it just sneaks up on me. Before I even had a chance to realize I was flirting and stop myself, Chef walked by, touched my arm, and said into my ear, “You are flirting with someone in my bar? Nice, Catherine.” He was justifiably pissed. But since I had been drinking, I was certain he was overreacting. So then, I did the fun thing you do in fights: I turned it around on him.“Chill out! I was just talking to him! You don’t own me and you certainly can’t talk to me like that. I’m leaving.”
Not my proudest moment. Especially considering I couldn’t leave – I had no way home. Chef was my DD. So after stomping away, I came back, and ultimately apologized.
But damn it, in that moment, I had established a precedent in our relationship. I am the girl who stomps away – but comes back. The stomp-awayer-comer-backer.
It’s kind of like the people who, when you argue with them on the phone and they hang up on you, you know they’ll call back. They always call back. They’ve lost all credibility. So you wait patiently, and sure enough – the phone rings. And the fight continues.
Damn it, I was the stomp-awayer-comer-backer in my relationship with my ex fiancé too. I suck at really leaving. I like to fight things out! I like to have the last word! And I hate – despise – the feeling of leaving and losing all control. What if he doesn’t follow me? What if he doesn’t call and apologize the next day? What if it’s really over – this fight was the last fight, and me stomping away ended it all? So, I come back. I’ve always come back. This is my pattern. But it’s not the way I want to be anymore.
I only want to leave if I really mean to leave. I only want to leave, to throw out an ultimatum, only if I really mean it. No more crying wolf. It’s time to be more adult in my relationships.
Not only are there patterns in how you fight, there are patterns in what you fight about.
A few weeks ago, I desperately needed a day off of work. I had plenty of vacation days saved up and had just wrapped up a few projects at work, so it was good timing. When I told Chef I was going to take a day off the coming week, he suggested that I take Wednesday off (which is his day off) and we could spend the entire day together.
I had a dentist appointment that morning, but the plan was that after my appointment, Chef and I would meet up and do some grocery shopping for his restaurant (it seems to Chef that a day off simply means he’s not at the restaurant – but he’s never really off), then we would grab lunch and spend the rest of the day together.
Wednesday came, and Chef called me in the morning to inform me that to save time, he was going to get the shopping done while I was at the dentist. Then, he would meet me at my house by noon. I happily agreed, considering I didn’t really feel like going shopping anyway.
At noon he called me and said he got caught up. And that he’d be there shortly. So I waited. I expected this; he seems to always get caught up. At 1:30, he texted me that he was on his way now; he had gotten held up with work. I proceeded to fall asleep on the couch. Somewhere around 2:30, Chef said he was really on his way this time, but he had to get gas first. Now I was annoyed. When he finally arrived at my house around 3:45, I was pissed.
I was pissed because I had taken the entire day off to spend with him, and as he walked into my living room at 3:45, I had wasted the entire day waiting on him. At my job, I don’t have to take full days off. In fact, I can take my vacation time in 15-minute increments. If I had known he wasn’t going to show up until almost 4 p.m., I could have just taken the afternoon off – not the entire day. Or, I would have done something worthwhile, instead of just waiting around all day.
When I explained to him why I was upset, Chef turned to me, opened up his arms and said, “Let’s just hug it out.”
I was upset. I wanted to talk it out, not hug it out. And hell, if talking it out didn’t work, I was willing to yell it out. Either way, I wanted understanding. I wanted an apology. And I didn’t want to be in this situation again.
This incident confirmed to me that Chef doesn’t like to talk. He does everything in his power to avoid disagreements. I suspected as much, because when I asked him what he and his ex-girlfriends fought about, he said, “Why would we fight? If we have to fight, then we shouldn’t be together.”
This couldn’t be further from what I believe. I don’t mind confrontation at all. I’d rather get everything out on the table than just bury it. I think that if you can’t resolve disagreements and talk about what is bothering you in a healthy way, then you shouldn’t be together. My main problem is that I don’t know how to choose my battles – everything is fair game.
When I told my friend Megan about the situation, she said it perfectly, “We fight because we care.”
I’m not saying a relationship should be full of battles and contention. But I think that in any normal relationship, there will be disagreements. There will be arguments. The key is to keep the fights healthy – no name calling, no threats, no references to his mother, no cheap shots and no ultimatums. And fight about the topic at hand – do not use one fight to bridge to a million other fights you’ve wanted to have for a long time (this rule can be hard to follow).
In relationships, there are often patterns in what we fight about. My ex fiancé and I had a few patterns during our seven years together. For a few years, we mostly fought about my trust issues and the little lies here and there in which I caught him (ironic, huh?). Then toward the end, when we were planning to get married, we fought about money. We had some very different viewpoints about how to spend money – he was a spender, and I was a saver. My point is, looking back, I can clearly see the patterns.
I’m beginning to see a pattern with Chef and me: We argue about the time we have together and his work schedule. It’s not so much that we fight because I’m upset that we don’t have enough time together. In fact, I’m happy with the amount of time we have together. I get upset about how he doesn’t meet the expectations he sets with me about the time we have together. If you aren’t going to be at my house until 4, don’t tell me you’ll be there at 12. Just tell me 4. If I come to your bar on New Year’s Eve and you’ve promised we’ll spend lots of time together, even though you have to work “some,” expect that I’ll be upset when we only spend 20 minutes together the whole night. Especially when I cancelled other plans to be there with you. Those are the things Chef and I fight about.
I don’t think this is unusual. Most people have patterns in their fighting. The same old issues come up again and again. I’ve heard it said that the common causes of divorce are disagreements over sex, money and how to raise the children. You can probably add Facebook to that list, as lawyers say that Facebook is being noted in one in five online divorce petitions.
Do you have patterns in the way you fight and what you fight about? How can you break those patterns once they’ve been established? Are there any things you do in a fight that you’d like to change? I’d love to hear what you guys think!