I just returned from a two-week trip. My daughter begged to spend the weekend with her dad when we got back because she missed him, and serendipitously, my partner and I got our first weekend alone together in a long time. It was a beautiful weekend and there’s a lingering sparkle for both of us, even though not only our girl is back, but the Uncles have returned from their own trip and we’re all together again.
Part of the reason we had such a great weekend is because we had a huge argument Saturday. I’ve slowly learned that a healthy relationship for me must include some arguments. I have even more slowly learned how to have a healthy argument.
Growing up, my parents taught me that the only acceptable emotion was happy satisfaction. If I felt anything else I needed to toughen up, or get over it. My father, his father, my stepfather, and others in my lives were alcoholics, and it was fairly common for me to witness someone getting stinking drunk and fighting themselves to sleep. There was nearly always physical violence against my mother, one of my step-mothers, or the house. We kept a sheetrock patching kit readily available in the kitchen for awhile, because of the frequency of fists and other things going through the walls and punching holes.
So because I was 1) taught not to express anger, and 2) scared to death of any sort of fighting, I have attempted to avoid fighting most of my life.
This has not worked well in my past relationships. I used to bend myself upside-down and inside-out in order to keep the peace. My partners couldn’t understand it nor did they like it, and I didn’t know it was happening until our patterns were set and I had already walked myself right into abusive relationships. There is no reason for anyone to abuse another human, ever. I just …somewhere along the line… probably in the midst of those Al-Anon meetings that just about saved my life… I just realized that I was creating perfect environments for my own abuse to occur. Not that I was asking for it… but… I was certainly handing them the tools and offering them immunity. I definitely increased the odds that I would be treated badly.
One day I’ll get into the process I went through in order to re-evaluate and re-focus my life’s path which set me along the journey to become the person I am today (whom I like much better than the old girl). Addressing arguments was not a priority during the first burst of metamorphosis though. It actually is a process I’ve only been working on recently, and with a huge amount of help from my current partner.
He is the first one to actually say the words to me, “Yes, I’m angry with you, but I love you just as much as I ever did.” And that was a revelation. You can love someone AND be pissed at them? It hadn’t occurred to me. I thought being angry somehow reflected damaged love. But it doesn’t mean anything at all is wrong with the quality of our relationship, if something he says makes me furious. It means I’m still an individual with different thoughts, and that’s a really good thing.
I’ve been practicing since that day, about two years ago. I get my committee to help me out. (mentioned before, they are the voices of often unsolicited advice who live in my head). We all chant something like “fighting does not mean he loves me any less. being angry with him does not mean I love him any less.” This keeps me more calm and more able to hear what’s being said.
One of the best ways for me to have a healthy argument is to keep my damn mouth shut! If I get defensive and start talking back, he will clam up. Sometimes I get the best and most honest stuff from him when he finally loses his temper, and so these are gems that I can treasure. He is a much better person than me about not bitching about things. He rarely, rarely complains or says anything negative about anyone no matter how awful they are, and he notes my own weaknesses even more rarely. I WANT to hear what he really thinks of me, and moments of anger are the only time I get it. So I’m really motivated to shut up and listen.
Anyway, blah blah…I need to get back to Saturday, which was such a highlight for me. We were arguing about money, and our huge expensive house back in New England which won’t sell because the market is so terrible. There was a point where I really needed his help financially and hinted about it, but he didn’t bail me out. So I became resentful and it all came out Saturday. I said some pretty mean things. He exploded, reminding me (for the hundredth time – I don’t know why I never get it) that when I want something, I need to ask for it. That he feels really bad that I needed financial help and he could easily have helped me, but since I never asked for help he assumed I was fine. “I don’t READ MINDS!” he yelled.
Maybe because this is not the first time he’s told me this, maybe because we are unbelievably in debt right now and the pressure is on, but he just kept yelling. His hands were flying, his neck turned red, his voice was out of control and his sentences were choppy and didn’t all relate to his point.
And right in the midst of it all, I realized I remained calm. I was listening carefully to his words – hearing his fear of the future, his worry about the bills, his frustration at wanting to take care of the woman he loves. I realized he had a good reason to have lost his patience with me – I’m still expecting him to speak and understand Venutian, even though I’ve been taught and taught that the Martian system of communication is vastly different.
While he yelled at me, I listened. I thought about how much I loved him, how much better of a person I have become due to being blessed with his friendship. I tried to understand how my behavior came across from his perspective, so I could improve my communication in the future. Now and then I spoke up just a little to ask him to tell me more.
Eventually the steam that had built up began to lose its intensity. He eventually began asking me legitimate questions and our fight turned into a serious discussion. He calmed down too. He remembered things he had said earlier and softened them. “I know I said —–, but what I really mean is that —-.” And so I found that all the rebuttals I had wanted to snap at him earlier on were completely unnecessary, because he’s a good man and he knows what’s an exaggeration due to emotion out of control. I don’t need to tell him that.
I thanked him for the argument, and he laughed. “Yeah, right.” But I mean it. What a gift to me. For the first time I think I just experienced a healthy fight.