Does this look familiar?
Last week, my wife and I had a huge fight. Emotions were high. We both were angry with each other. I felt unappreciated. She felt unloved. I did not care how she felt because I felt justified in how I was treating her. I am not quite sure what she thought or felt, but I am confident that she would not want it printed on a billboard for all to see.
What we were arguing about seemed so important at the time. Neither one of us wanted to “give in” to the other. After all, I was (of course!) right and she was wrong – at least in my own mind. She felt the same way (although with the fault pointed in the other direction!).
It took a while – several hours this time — for one of us to make the first move. It was easier to simply ignore the issue as well as each other. I was angry. She was hurt. We were both still deeply in love, but if someone had asked one of us if we liked each other, we both would have answered simultaneously, “No! Not right now!”
It is so much more fulfilling and enjoyable to show love and appreciation to each other. But the argument and the issue seemed more important at the time.
It is now one week later. We both remember the argument. We remember the emotions. We remember the anger and hurt. But for the life of us, neither one of us can remember what the argument was about!
The “Issue” is NOT the “Issue”
In marriage counseling, it is not uncommon for a couple to come in for a session to argue about something that has caused a recent “blow up.” Often, the focus of the “discussion” seems so small in comparison to their life together.
In fact, it would be very enlightening to video the session and have them listen to themselves. Even only one week later, the topic of contention would appear inconsequential — even to them.
So Why Put So Much Energy Into it?
Often we respond to our spouse in a way that simply does not reflect the importance of the issue – even to us.
Then why do we react that way ? This is where the “debrief” AFTER the argument becomes so important. Let’s face it. Neither one of us wants to talk about it in the “heat of the battle.” It can even be dangerous to the relationship.
Each of us needs to ask ourself the question “Why was this such a big deal? What is it about this issue that made it so important at the time?”
Sometimes we are taking out our frustration on our spouse when the situation that “triggered” our reaction actually began at work the day before. Or perhaps the kids wore us out. Or a colleague or friend did or said something that hurt us. Did my wife use a tone of voice that sounded like it was filled with disdain or disgust? Did my husband not notice the great meal I had prepared or that I had also had a rough day?
In any case, chances are there was something else that was at the root of the way we reacted.
When we overreact to a conversation, event, or situation, usually something else is going on. Few of us wake up in the morning thinking “How can I aggravate my spouse today?” or “What can I do to make my spouse angry or hurt?” Although we often THINK that our spouse is purposefully planning to ruin our day.
What if “doing the work” to understand why the conflict happened could make your relationship more solid? What if trying to discover the “triggers’ to your reactions could help you understand how to navigate through the next rough spot–not only in your marriage– but with others as well?
This is where talking with a priest, rabbi, pastor or counselor can help.
We need to be willing to ask ourselves “What really happened?”
Often, our anger, frustration, even hurt are signals that something else has threatened “who we are” as a person or has become an obstacle to something we want.
We really only have three choices:
1 — After both of us “get over it,” ignore the argument and pretend it never happened. This certainly creates “peace” for some period of time. But the reaction to the next “trigger” will probably come more quickly and with a greater intensity.
2– Resolve the immediate point of the argument. This option is certainly “better than nothing.” But the fact that we will probably forget how the argument started should tell us that “the issue is not the real issue.”
3—After emotions have “died down,” be willing as individuals and as a couple to talk through WHY we reacted this way. This is where a third party (a “referee” of sorts) can be beneficial.
Option three can be risky. If not handled well, it can bring on another “discussion” that both will probably regret later.
One key is being willing to put the interests of the other person first. This can be frightening. What if they don’t respond as I hope or expect ?
Attitude, perspective, and expectations are so important. Digging below the surface takes work, but puts your relationship on more solid ground. Understanding is enhanced. Intimacy can be deepened.
Is it worth it? It is certainly worth giving it a try!