The Art of War

Posted on April 9, 2009. Filed under: reality |

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This is, by far, the most difficult relationship I’ve ever been in.  I’m okay with that.  I’ve failed at relationships because I didn’t try hard enough, so I accept that getting along with someone — especially when you have my strong personality and he’s no doormat — is sometimes going to be frustrating and exhausting.

But boy, I didn’t realize it would be this hard.  Nor did I realize that fighting well is definitely a skill, one in which I am still a struggling amateur.  After a small thing turned into a very large blow-up last night, I had time to myself — alone in bed with the company of two dogs and a cat — to think about my fighting style.

I fight defensively, like a cat.  Ooh, boy, when I’m hurt, I’m like one of my cats backed into a corner, all claws and very little strategy.  As Calvin once noted about Hobbes, the cat: “I keep forgetting, five of his six ends are pointy….”

My guy fights like our puppy: lots of advancing and retreating, time outs to lick wounds and plan the next engagement, and every so often, a play bite that breaks the skin*.

In the aftermath, I tend to feel like my way is wrong and his way is right, but the reality is that we just do it differently.    When I try to fight his way, I end up even more frustrated and upset.  His withdrawals feel like abandonment to me; his unintended nicks stay with me for a long time.  Unfortunately, he can’t come over to my side either.  My style feels too confrontational, too wordy, too overwhelming to him.

At best, I aim to be able to insert conscious thought between the hurt and the reaction (though I have yet to figure out what that thought should be, exactly) and to be more accepting of silence and withdrawal as part of the disagreement dance.  Fighting is a lot less satisfying that way, but I’m willing to compromise.  Or at least try.  🙂

You get points for effort in this relationship thing, right?

Do you and your guy have different fighting styles?  Have you reconciled them, or are you “under construction” like we are?

*Note for clarity: the puppy plays with other dogs like this, not with humans (no, no, absolutely not).  And my analogy is strictly an analogy.  Our fights aren’t physical; my point is that a comment can sometimes hurt more than was anticipated.

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4 Responses to “The Art of War”

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oh we definitely have different fighting styles. his is to become a loud dramatic bully who uses his way with words. mine is to retreat and not speak. because i’m not as good as expressing myself as him, because he will twist my words around no matter what i say, and because i don’t want to escalate the fight. logically i know he just gets dramatic and that a couple days later he’ll say he didn’t mean the things he said, but while it’s happening i feel like it’s the worst thing ever. i dont know if this will ever change, which is hard.

I’m betting that my style is much like his, described through a different perspective — yours. My guy would probably say exactly what you did: loud bully using her way with words, twisting words so that you don’t want to say anything.

In the midst of the thing, I think I’m “clarifying my point.” Really. The way I use the term “self-centered” is roughly equivalent to the way he uses “strong-headed” or something like that, and I think that I am helping things by pointing that out. His perspective? Not so helpful.

Like you, the realization that it might always be this way is saddening. I have to remind myself — in the middle of it all, and quite literally — “this won’t always feel this way, this won’t always feel this way” or I almost can’t believe that happy will come again.

Sigh.

Ooooh boy are we still a work in progress! But we’ve learned a few things in the past couple years. For one thing, we’ve thoroughly learned how the other person argues (which I believe is a big step!) I’m the “there’s-no-such-thing-as-too-many-words” kind of arguer (and the “if-you-aren’t-saying-anything-you-must-need-me-to-clarifying-my-point-by-repeating-it-six-or-seven-times” kind, too). My husband is pretty introverted. He thinks about what he wants to say for a long time, then says it in about twenty words, then is finished. Really. Plus I’m learning that he feels that I think he’s stupid when I start repeating myself. He got it the first time; he just doesn’t always know what / have anything to say. (Can you believe that?!)

I’m sure you can imagine what happens when we mix “under the influence” (of anger, hurt, or disappointment, that is). So for “us” to work, we’ve had to learn few tricks to help me feel like our communication is still “satisfying”… without trying to “become him” or set aside my strong feelings… while still not forcing him to talk too much more than he wants to.

We’re Christians, so we enjoyed the Christian-based book “For Better… Forever!” If you’re not Christian but could pick out the practical points from among the God-references, I think you’d still find the book a gem. It’s main theme in terms of arguing is “never say anything to your spouse you would get fired for saying to your boss.” Of course, that can be pretty impossible sometimes… but it made me (the big talker) pause. Am I really more respectful and patient with my boss and co-workers than with my best friend and life-partner?! Ummmm… *blush!*

Also, recently he just spontaneously started asking my opinion first when we’re dealing with a touchy subject. This has amazing results! First, it lets me get the “first word” before his natural silence has begun to hurt my feelings and bring out my defensive “claws”… Yet, because I so love conversation, this tactic ensures that I don’t talk forever. Afterall, the more I talk, the more I’m *dying* to know what he thinks. So we’ve discovered I just naturally shut up faster when I “go first.” And I think he subconsciously listens better when he is the one to invite me to speak first, too. 🙂

P.S. ~ I love your Calvin and Hobbes quote about the five pointy sides! And your analogy about the cornered cat. So, so true…


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    I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and divorce papers) to prove it. Here I am again, pledging my life to my (new) love with eyes wide open (and heart racing) knowing full well how emotionally traumatic this can end… and doing it anyway.

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