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Thursday
Apr142011

Duking it Out

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I was all set to write a post today that was all ooey and gooey and sickly romantic about a conversation I had with The Candyman yesterday1, but then it became morning time and that plan was blown to bits. Why? Let’s just say that The Candyman doesn’t really do morning and as a result, there are times when we don’t do morning.

I mean, I’m groggy when I wake up, but I’m generally someone who can be awake and full-tilt about 30 seconds after I have my first gulp of coffee. The Candyman? Not so much. It takes him forever to really wake up. A cup of coffee doesn’t always do the trick. The Candyman walks around and looks like a normal person, but the man has a hair-trigger of a temper that can be tripped at the slightest of morning-infractions. We’ve had some of our worst fights ever between the hours of 6:30am and 8:30am. Sometimes our fights remind me of those old Army ad slogans, “We do more before 9am than most people do all day.” Yes, exactly. I mean, how is it possible to go from zero to 100mph that early in the morning? I’m not sure, but we manage it somehow.

Often after we’ve fought, I will immerse myself in chores. When I’m pissed, I clean the shit out of some stuff. I’ll be squatting inside the tub with my soap-scum-busting cleaner and a sponge, scrubbing the hell out of the imaginary line on the tub, cursing The Candyman and deciding whose fault it was. It’s almost always his fault when I’m in the midst of anger-cleaning. This makes me feel better as I continue to scour the house until it’s bright and shiny and clean. And it’s ammunition too. I can say to myself, “Look! Look at all I’ve done today! I cleaned this house from top to bottom! What did HE do today? Huh? Tell me!” And it really doesn’t matter what he did that day, because it won’t ever be enough. When I’m still angry, it doesn’t matter who does what.

I’m no different from anyone else. I have to work through my anger. Some people can be over something in a nano-second. Me? Not so much. I’m a grudge-holder. I stew. I assign fault. I am the judge and jury. In the heat of the moment, The Candyman has the habit of assuming the very worst about me. He assumes I’m behaving in a particular way on purpose, that I’m being mean or self-centered or manipulative. Neither of us listen or care to listen. Usually, if the fight reaches this point, our imaginary referee rings the bell and  we go to our respective corners, get some coaching and decide who will throw in the towel first. I hate throwing in the towel. Even though the fight should be over and done, I’m still holding on to the “rightness” of the fight. Whose fault is it? To me, assigning fault is the key. If we can determine whose fault it is, then the problem is solved. If it’s my fault, then I say I’m sorry and stop the behavior. Same goes for The Candyman. We used to do this in therapy. We’d rehash our fights, assign blame and move on. This worked for about….oh, who am I kidding? It never really worked. I thought it worked. If it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my problem. Period. The problem with this kind of non-problem-solving is that it doesn’t take emotions into account. It doesn’t take into account the fact that you’re actually sharing a living space with someone, that the person you’re fighting with doesn’t care about the “facts.”  The real facts are that the person you’re sharing your life with is angry too. Since we all process anger differently, there’s a lot to learn and accomplish when you fight with your partner. I think this learning process takes a while. It might take a whole lifetime.

*We interrupt this post to answer the phone and talk to a now-calm Candyman.*

Just when I was getting good and ready to attack the microscopic grout-grunge behind the toilet, The Candyman calls. We apologize. I read him this post. He agrees. We talk about what happened (without assigning blame) how and why it happened and how we can avoid it in the future. The conversation takes less than 10 minutes and the fight is over. Anyone witnessing our 7am exchange might be shocked at the intensity of it and how we get from there to forgiveness so quickly.

The answer is practice. We know our own faults and our therapist gave us the tools to make our fights work for us. Everyone couple fights, one way or the other. Ours are more of the explosive variety. If you think just because you’re not yelling that you’re not fighting…. well, you’re wrong. Silence can be the stuff of divorce. My bad habit of stewing and grudge-holding and resentment are unhealthy for our relationship. I have to fight with myself not to do that. The Candyman’s bad habit of assuming the worst is his challenge and I know he struggles with that too. For us, it’s the process of looking inside ourselves as individuals to work through what we’ve got going on in our partnership.

What’s your struggle? Is there a behavior, mind-set, time-of-day trigger for your fights? How do you resolve your conflict? Do you put on the gloves and go at it for a couple of rounds or do you nit-pick each other to death? Do tell.

1See tomorrow’s post.

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Reader Comments (3)

Great post. Assigning "blame" is absolutely important to me too, which always gets nasty.

My biggest issue is that I detest fighting and will often avoid it at all costs - in this way I end up "saving it up" for a really big fight. I'll bite my tongue so many times about so many things, that when we finally do get a good screaming match going, I whip out a laudry list of everything that's pissed me off over the last 3 months and he's standing there openmouthed and dumbfounded, asking "why the hell didn't you tell me you were upset about that THREE MONTHS AGO WHEN IT HAPPENED?"

I hate to even admit this but because I'm a wimp and a I cry at the drop of a hat, I usually "win" our fights because he feels bad at my tears, and apologizes. Nearly 7 years in and we're still learning how to fight.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

This, I need to remember this: "The real facts are that the person you’re sharing your life with is angry too. "

I'm a fact-getter. If John says something that upsets me, I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to sort out exactly what was said to make my point, even though by now it's way too skewed by our perceptions to really be able to sort out. And it's almost always at night, because I'm the one to start the fight and I start it when I'm tired.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNina

This is kind of embarrassing. My biggest problem is that I just expect Jake to read my mind. Ridiculous, I know. The sad thing is that he's actually kind of starting to. Well, he at least knows how I act when something is bothering me, even if he doesn't know exactly what it is. Then he basically has to pry it out of me because I don't like to come out and say what's wrong. I'm constantly trying to remind myself to be more vocal about my feelings, instead of bottling them up and assuming he'll come to me because he knows what's upsetting me.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarissa

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