“We just can’t seem to stop fighting,” he told me. “And when we do stop, and try to figure out how not to fight again, we get into another fight!”
I was sitting across from a newly married couple, attempting to save their marriage. The last year had been extremely volatile and they were both at their wits end. They didn’t know how to reach each other, make the other understand their side, and move on from whatever problem they were having. It’s not that they fought about everything, in fact, they had only had three fights over the last year. The problem was that they fought numerous times about those three things. I had talked to them each separately, and now we were all together trying to work through their issues and get to a final resolution.
Finally, we made some headway and the husband and wife came to terms with how to handle their communication going forward. But just as we were about to part ways, the husband brought up something the wife had said in one of their fights; something she had insisted she didn’t say.
“Absolutely you said that!” He insisted quite loudly.
“That isn’t what I said at all,” she shouted back, and then recounted her side of the story for the third time that day.
As I listened to them go back and forth, and watched both tempers rise again, it became pretty clear why they kept repeating the same arguments.
I asked the husband why he brought up what his wife had said when we had already discussed a plan to move forward from this particular argument. He stated that they needed to get the facts straights. It drove him crazy that she said certain things and then just forgot or denied that she said them. After all, what she said started the fight to begin with, in his opinion. The wife just sat there, shaking her head while he told me this.
“Why is it so important to you that she admit what she said?” I asked. “Since you have already resolved the argument and decided on how to move forward, what point is there in bringing up something she said during your fight? Are you looking for her to admit she made a mistake? Do you want an apology from her? What is your goal here?” I asked him.
He looked stunned for a second and drew a blank. He wasn’t sure. Why was he going over things she said when we had all come to a resolution on the problem. Like most couples, and the husband in particular in this case, they both had trouble letting go of things. This time, something the wife had either said, implied, or something the husband had inferred had hurt his feelings and angered him, and now he wanted her to admit her wrongdoing.
The Future Is More Important Than The Past
The problem with most feuds is that in the heat of an argument most people don’t say, or remember things that were said, accurately. Most of the time, their words are motivated by raw emotion and because of that we may not speak as clearly as we think we do and we certainly don’t hear as unbiasedly as we could. So, while it might make sense to go over exactly how a fight went down in order to figure out how to avoid it in the future, rarely do both sides remember an argument exactly the same way. That’s why rehashing your version and badgering the other person to concede, is pointless. What makes the most sense, and gets the fastest resolution is stating how you interpreted what they said and how they made you feel. And on the flip side, apologizing quickly for how your words came across.
Communication isn’t as easy as just saying whatever is on your mind, unfortunately. With a relationship, it’s mostly about learning how the other person interprets messages. Some people you can be quite blunt with, and with others you have to be more tactful. Certain people take offense easily, and others have a thicker skin. Learning each others “hot button words” and avoiding them is particularly helpful when having a disagreement. As is trying to remain objective and unemotional, even though the fight likely began because someone’s feelings were hurt. It’s not easy to do, but if you can try to remember you are both on the same team and work with, instead of against each other to find a solution, you’ll find you yourselves making amends much quicker.
The last thing I told this couple was for each of them to be mindful of the words they used to express their emotions. There would be a lot less to work through and forgive if they simply fought “above the belt” in the first place. That way, the past wouldn’t stick to them as easily, and their emotional wounds wouldn’t take so long to heal either. It’s human nature to meet anger with anger and lash out at someone when they are lashing out at you, but staying rooted in love even when you’re upset can make a world of difference in how your altercations play out. So, if your partner starts yelling and making verbal blows, don’t rise to meet him. Instead, bring him back to your level by remaining clam, grounded, and thoughtful about your ultimate goal… which shouldn’t be to unload frustration, but to get both of you to a better place of understanding going forward.