I’ve always been curious about what couples fight about. In my opinion it’s one of the most fascinating aspects of relationships- what issues people will lie down on, what they will fight tooth and nail for. And it’s never what you think.
I would watch eight movies about couples fighting before I’d watch one about couples falling in love (If they were realistic and existed without platitudes, without improbable conclusions and neat endings, that is. See Two For the Road and Blue Valentine). I understand falling in love, it’s been explored exhaustively in prose and poetry for centuries. It’s pretty and predictable and uniform. People don’t try to hide it.
I used to ask people about their fights. Anyone who had been in a relationship for more than a few years got the full interview, “What do you fight about? How often do you fight? Do you yell? How do you resolve it? Do you apologize? Do they? How do you make up?”
It took more than a few awkward silences before I realized how reticent people are to discuss their fights, even more so than when they discuss their finances. They guard disagreements like shiny gold coins, the secret, unspoken currency of relationships.
I was stonewalled, lied to, and given vague answers accompanied by breezy waves of the hand “We fight every so often….not serious fights though, and we always work it out.”
But these answers weren’t comparable, there weren’t quantifiable and so, to me, they were INFURIATING. What did it mean? How much is every so often? A “not serious” fight for the Joneses could be a knock-down-drag-out brawl to the Smiths.
What I wanted was someone to answer:
“We usually fight about money, how often to have sex and why she can’t just fill the car with gas when she sees it’s nearing empty instead of always waiting until the light comes on. We usually have a big fight about every two months. I’m a yeller, she’s not. We cool off because once I’ve yelled for a while she leaves and then I usually apologize first because I lose control more. To make up we hug and laugh about the fight, we try and resolve the issue but sometimes there’s no solution because we just disagree.”
I was looking for an honest discussion, but I never got it. And because of the vague-ness, the avoidance I experienced when asking, I started questioning why I was so interested when everyone else wanted nothing more than to pretend it wasn’t happening.
Oh… we don’t fight…
Was it schadenfreude? Was I trying to make myself feel better about my own fledgling relationship? Was I looking for a template, an instruction manual? Was I just nosy?
One of my friends suggested that since my parents had divorced recently, I was obsessed with fighting because I associated it with the end of a relationship. I thought about this for a long time before finally refuting it as an explanation.
When I think about my parents divorce I don’t think about fighting. I don’t remember much fighting at all, actually.
What I remember is silence. A lot of silence. I remember two people who had battled over too much for too long and were too exhausted to fight anymore.
As I aged and settled deeper into my own relationship and saw our patterns of fighting ebb and flow, as I became more comfortable and secure with myself as a girlfriend and then a wife I realized that fighting within relationships fascinates me because of how much it says about the people involved.
You can learn a lot about someone by seeing them angry, by seeing what makes them angry. It’s one of the only times (besides sex) when you see someone truly lose control. No one should ever enter into any sort of serious relationship (marriage, business partnership, travel companion etc) unless you’ve seen each other angry. And if they truly never get angry, well that speaks to a whole other set of issues.
What you could probably learn about Adam and I by seeing us angry, is that I need to be in control, and Adam instinctively bucks control at every turn. BOOM.
There it is, pretty simple except that the ways in which this basic conflict manifests itself in our daily life are many and varied.
So, in the interest of fostering an open and honest dialogue about marriage and relationships, here are the top 5 things that Adam and I are fighting about right now:
1. Work. Right now Adam, owns a business that – like many others – is struggling a bit. This situation exists through no fault of his own, but it’s a stressful one nonetheless. There isn’t enough time, isn’t enough money and he usually accuses me of not helping as much as I could. He’s usually right. But I guard my time fiercely and offer my assistance reluctantly, for reasons I can’t clearly articulate, even to myself. When we argue about it I usually end up admitting that he’s right, fairly quickly, but can’t seem to make my actions meet my intentions.
I think he’s also sometimes resentful about how much my work affects me emotionally. It’s a protective response- how many times does a man want to see his wife cry about the arrest of one kid, that repeated relapses of another? It makes him feel helpless, which is not a position anyone suffers gladly.
2. CLEANING. Jesus, always with the cleaning. Right now my closet is separated into categories and subcategories by colour, season and length. Adam’s is separated into only two categories: Empty hangers and dirty clothing. I don’t do his laundry and, oh god, neither does he. A few days ago he picked me up after work looking incredibly dashing wearing suit pants, dress shirt and a tie.
“Why are you so dressed up?” I asked, and he shrugged, a shy smile crossing his face. “Are these the only clean clothes you have left?” I asked. He started laughing. YOU’RE THIRTY ONE ADAM! 31.
So yes, anything to do with cleaning: laundry, dishes, truck, car, house. Our computer is located deep within his man cave and I am usually typing these posts amid a tower of beer cans and empty peanut butter jars. I think he likes clutter. Conversely, I like bludgeoning him over the head with stacks of dirty dishes.
3. Adam alleges that I “hide” things. But, by “hide” things he means file things. So he turns the entire house upside down looking for the gas bill and when I come home I say, “The gas bill is in the filing cabinet under “Bills-Gas”. To Adam, this is mystifying. Keys get hung up on the key hooks, coats on the coat rack, laundry in the laundry hampers, Gus stuff in the Gus basket.
This will never make sense to Adam.
And I will never stop “hiding” things.
(At this point I am going to be honest and admit that I am struggling to find things to fill this list. I’ll also admit that I started off with 10 items and shrank it down to 5 because after writing about the first two I was sort of stumped. This is not because we have a perfect relationship but because after being together for almost 10 years, the things we have left to fight about are the things that manifest because of innate character traits, and will never really get resolved. So I’m sort of reaching on these last ones)
4. Planning. In that Adam doesn’t. Ever. I think to Adam having a plan means being controlled. Whereas to me, having a good plan and following it to the letter is the holy grail of life achievement, a commemorative plaque decorated with hermaphrodite unicorns carrying drunken leprechauns in gold-plated buckets: GOLD STAR! You made a plan and carried it out to completion! You can die a happy woman, Madeleine Ann!
This particular fight crops up whenever we travel anywhere and I try and make reservations and figure out when we should leave and what ferry/flight to catch and what time to get there and what to pack. I repeatedly ask Adam dozens of questions in increasingly shrill tones and he answers, always “Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out.”
5. Throwing out expired food/leftovers gone bad in the refrigerator. (In fact, this is what the standoff was about! I finally figured it out when a stack of tupperwares on the counter began to smell like toxic waste).
I can’t do it. I will scrub toilets and clean dog diarrhea and wash floors on my hands and knees before I will do this. I can’t. I brings up horrible feelings of waste and guilt and disgust and I just can not do it (Do you see that? Bold, italicized AND underlined. Shit’s getting real, son)
Usually Adam does this for me. For our entire marriage, he has been the designated fridge cleaner-outer, but lately he has refused.(ADAM: WHY? I thought we were a team? I don’t heckle you about your beer can towers and you throw out moldy coleslaw! We had a good thing going on, why are you RUINING MY LIFE?)
Negotiations are pending on this one.
As for the rest of the questions my 19 year old self would have loved to ask my 27 year old self: We don’t fight often. Maybe one BIG fight (as in raised voices and slammed doors and icy silences – note how I am describing this to you! So helpful!) every 6-8 months. Little nitpicky irritation-based fights where one of us might call the other an insufferable man-child and the other might say in retaliation that he’s never met such a nagging shrew, occur probably once a month. These are usually resolved pretty quickly by laughing at the caricatures we have become. (Again, not because we’re awesome and every fight is resolved with “Hahahahah I love you…no I love YOU more…no I love YOU more!” but because Adam tries to joke his way out of everything and at this point we have fought about these same inane topics for so long that we’re basically just repeating lines that have long since lost any meaning or hope for reconciliation.)
And there you have it. I showed you mine, what do you fight about?
Edited to add: Betterthingstodo bravely took the challenge and wrote a post here about what her and soon-to-be-husband fight about. I laughed so hard I may have peed a little (Highlights include “Gears of Killing Shit: Rainbow Edition” and debates about the existence of “Albino black men” ).
I also shared with her my concern that my Adam and her J are, in fact, the same person. You can add that one to the list of things we fight about, I guess:
#6: The fact that Adam has an entirely different life (complete with Fiancee) in a different city, in a different country (WHERE DO YOU FIND THE TIME?) for the sole reason of using his fuckery to drive another woman mad. Was one not enough, Adam/J? Shame, I say. SHAME.
If you write a post about what you and your partner (past, current or imaginary) fight about, drop me a line and I’ll link to you. Let’s air our dirty laundry!