After spending a few days away with family over the holidays, Nazari and I packed up our car to head back home to Pittsburgh. It wasn't long into our drive before we were debriefing a few scenarios from our time away, and although we were driving west, things immediately began to head south.
Over the past eight years, we feel that we can confidently say we have gotten "better" at fighting. We tend to fight about fewer things, and on average rebound from fights faster. While we have come a long way, we have also gotten "better" at escalating things very quickly - jumping right into what we know will make an impact and leave a sting. So when we do fight, we know how to make it count - in the worst way. We found ourselves in this terrible habit of immediately attacking one another's characters, generalizing things about the other person, saying hurtful things, and both believing we are 100% in the right without a regard for the other person's feelings or experience. Guys - not only could we both get mean, we could both get loud.
After awhile, Nazari would get sick of fighting, so he would insincerely apologize as he would just want the fight to be over. I would call his bluff and say that just saying sorry and not actually wanting to change wasn't going to help. I'd want to continue talking things through to make sure he REALLY understood what he had done that made me so upset. OR, I would give him the silent treatment (both very mature ;) We would inevitably be in a stale mate - both increasingly angry at the other.
Nazari typically is the stronger, more mature of us in these scenarios. He never gives up. Doesn't allow me to stay silent or storm off (he does give me space if I communicate that's what I need). And he never shoves the issue under the rug or let's it go on unaddressed. Eventually his apology gets a little more sincere, and he says something nice that begins to melt my ice cold heart.
Some version of this - while not incredibly frequent, has been incredibly consistent over the years. You may have heard the definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Well - that was us when angry with one another.
What we discussed on this trip (after we were friends again), was that whenever we would get into a fight, we were making one another the enemy with the end goal to prove ourselves right. We KNOW that isn't right and that we SHOULD be fighting together to resolve an ISSUE. But in the heat of the moment, with fresh wounds out in the open, we find doing the right thing to feel impossible. Hurt people hurt people.
A voice in our head was consistently telling us that it is our spouse that is the enemy. It is THEM that needs to change. THEY need to apologize and confess how wrong they are.
This mindset was killing us.
We know it is important to remain a team and to keep the issue at hand the issue - not generalize it to every weakness and hurt we are each carrying. We know how imperative it is to remain calm and kind. (Easier said than done of course). BUT - we are what we repeatedly do. So if we continue in the same pattern, we will remain in the same toxic cycle. However, if we can do the hard work to break this pattern, we might begin to see real change.
We know for sure that conflict is inevitable. Through the years, we will continue to disagree, and we will unintentionally hurt one another.
So on the remainder of this fateful drive home, we went from fighting each other to brainstorming ways to counter the pull we each feel when in discord. We knew that we first needed to remind ourselves of how much we genuinely love and care for the other person and that they ARE NOT THE ENEMY (even if it feels like it at the time). We need to use "I feel" statements and not "You are" statements. And we need to calm the heck down. Often we are tense, adrenaline rushing and inevitably holding our breath. Knowing this, we created a system we are striving to follow when we find ourselves fighting each other instead of remaining a team to resolve an issue.
Before we discuss the problem(s):
Take 3 deep breaths
Say aloud (as many times as is necessary to believe it): “You are not my enemy and I love you.”
Share something positive about the other person
Once we are composed and know we don't hate our spouse, we can then:
State what exactly we are upset about calmly using I feel statements.
Share with the other person what we would like to have happened/how we wish the situation had played out and what we hope to happen differently in the future.
Apologize. State specifically what it is we are sorry about. (We know from much experience that even if one of us is at fault, there is ALWAYS a reason for us both to apologize.)
Ask for forgiveness/Forgive
The real kicker: We are striving to hold hands the whole time. The last thing we typically want in a fight is to touch. This lack of vulnerability further divides us and our goal is to remain undivided.
It is a work in progress. Thus far, we have yet to make it the whole way through. But each time we make progress is a win. How we talk to one another matters. We are the only ones that can control ourselves. And we are what we repeatedly do.
Have you developed your own system to combat the cycle of fighting each other? If you've found something that works for you - we'd love to hear it!