What My Partner and I Learned from Our Glorious Fight

Woman sulking while her boyfriend is explaining himselfFor the first time in months, we breathe a bit easier. Our external stressors remain the same—aging parents, children’s needs, the demands of work, medical issues, financial concerns. But like any couple that has reached their max, my spouse and I got into it last week.

I made a request to him. I did not get the answer I wanted. I huffed and puffed around the house. He went to bed without saying goodnight. For two days afterward, we barely spoke and most certainly did not kiss or touch each other.

Even me, the well-versed therapist who teaches other couples how to get along better, fell victim to my own stressors and reactive communication. For his part, he shut down.

I walked around on those days with a pit in my stomach. It felt awful.

The longer-term problem: over the past four months, we’ve harbored unconscious resentments and disconnected from each other. Our responsibilities somehow became bigger and more important than us. US!

As a person seeing me for therapy said earlier this week, with her spouse sitting beside her, “Life just keeps happening.” I replied, “You are not in that boat alone. Many couples sit in it with you.”

She’s right. Life keeps happening. When life feels hard, my spouse and I typically find ways to pull together, but we are human and imperfect. We do not always get it right.

Our fight started out tough but ultimately became constructive. It forced us to dig deeper than we had in months. We had to swallow our pride and look at ourselves, individually and as a couple. We had to ask ourselves some tough questions:

  • Who had we become?
  • How did we get here?
  • What did we need to do differently?
  • How can we be sure we are doing better?

The first question helps you understand what you do not want. The second prompts you to hold yourselves accountable for your behaviors. The third requires a clear needs assessment and behavioral change. It demands specific action. The fourth question invites you to check back in with each other in the future.

In question No. 3, most couples fail to get specific enough. Here are some examples:

Fights can alert you that something is wrong. When fights are constructive, they can mobilize energy, openness, honesty, and action.

Vague request: “I want more attention from you.”

Specific request: “I want us to spend time together on Friday nights without electronics.”

Vague request: “I want more sex.”

Specific request: “I’d like to have sex with you at least once on the weekends.”

Vague request: “I want more help with the kids.”

Specific request: “I would like one of us to make the kids lunches while the other gives the kids baths. Which do you prefer to do?”

When you do not specify, you leave room for assumption. Specific requests clearly communicate what you want from your partner. It leaves little room for misunderstanding.

We spent our evening hashing out these questions and spent most of our time on the third. We had to figure out what we wanted from each other behaviorally. Once we said it out loud, we had to find agreement and ways to support each other.

Fights can alert you that something is wrong. When fights are constructive, they can mobilize energy, openness, honesty, and action.

Do I want to go through it again? Not necessarily. Will we? Likely yes, at some point. After all, we are a loving couple, not a perfect one.

The result of our disagreement brought greater clarity, intimacy, teamwork, and a renewed sense of trust. It was truly a glorious, eye-opening, gut-wrenching, heart-stirring week, and I would not change one thing about it.

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  • Wes

    Wes

    September 30th, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    From my personal experience it is better just to go ahead and fight and get it over with than it is to hold it all inside. That is when the bitterness will really begin to set in.

  • Krista

    Krista

    September 30th, 2015 at 3:39 PM

    That first big fight can be a make or break as a couple, and I really believe that once you see if your partner is going to fight fairly then that one thing right there can show you if this is actually a person that you want to spend the rest of your life with.

    Fighting is a good way to listen to your partner and hear what complaints and concerns that they might have about the relationship. It doesn’t have to always get ugly, especially if you take the time to really listen to what they have to say and try to understand where they are coming from.

  • Martin

    Martin

    October 2nd, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    My thoughts are that you learn a whole lot more about someone during times of opposition than you ever do during that little honeymoon phase.

  • Paul

    Paul

    October 3rd, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    Great advice and so glad process works for you. Unfortunately as my ex and I changed during our 34+ year marriage we grew apart. She became restless and more dissatisfied and I, after years of teaching had learned to be maybe too patient and in almost complete control of my anger.
    Often when the ex became annoyed she hurled whatever was in reach my way. I would calmly ask if that made her feel better and would usually leave the roomn or home if I was on my way out to begin with. She hit me hard in the head once and did jump to see if I was ok. I am surprised that remote still works! I again simply said her aim was improving and asked if she felt better before leaving for work at the evening job.
    This situation deteriorated and although I believe I tried most of the steps you recommended my wife refused to join me for some coincelling and found the second guy I know of that she engaged in an affair with.
    Finally she told me we had to divorce. I replied we didn’t HAVE to but it happened soon after and although difficult for me i did not become ill or lose the nearly 35 pounds I did when she left me maybe 20 years previously with my 2 young daughters, to live with a fella out west for 2 months.
    I regret I perhaps was obstinate about moving or other aspects of our lives. I don’t think I was a control freak (she managed finances, planned frequent vacations and aways and enjoyed pretty much what she did around the home.
    She married the last guy she cheated with a quick 8 months after the divorce which she had told me was for independence, maybe the only reason she ever did admit. Well she had a 8 months of glorious independence I figure and is happy now while I had hoped and expected to remarry perhaps in 5 years. I don’t look forward to the 6th anniversary of the divorce in a few months. I guess I should have been much more communicative, understanding and more considerate of her love for me and our family.

  • Stef

    Stef

    October 4th, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    I can relate to what you are saying Paul because I too have a job that requires so much patience that when my husband whats to talk something out I guess I become too complacent because I am just trying to keep the boat from rocking like I have to in so many aspects of my life. That really hasn’t been too good for us because I at times feel like I have to swallow my thoughts and words just to keep him a little happier, but what am I doing to myself at that expense?

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