After 11 years together, my wife and I finally had the perfect fight.
My apologies if you are hoping for a description of a fight with brilliant Hollywood witticisms being tossed back and forth while clothes are chucked out the window with Michael Jackson’s Heal the World being sung in the background by a children’s choir.
That would be pretty perfect… for a movie depicting emotionally damaged people with no self control, and who don’t care about making the problem a whole lot worse.
The truth is the best fight is filled with self control, like caramel in a Caramilk bar.
The perfect fight essentially requires two people to be acting against their preferred reactionary behavior.
You know how you feel like yelling? Don’t.
Ranting and raving? Never.
Hit each other with pool noodles? Um… probably best not to.
So what does the perfect fight look like? Let me explain…
This situation begins with my wife and I at my mom’s house. Everyone else had left the weekly family dinner (I highly recommend weekly family dinners for families who want to be close), and my wife and I were talking with my mom.
At one point I said something that led to a normal conversation with my mom, but I could feel something change in my wife; it was like I had just turned on the switch for anger.
Guys know that moment. You’re not sure why, but you can feel a cold front has arrived.
After my mom finished adding her thoughts to my comment, my wife said it was time for her to go. She had her own car, so she left, and after a few minutes I followed. On my way home I tried to think of what I had said to change the mood and I had an idea, but it seemed pretty dumb to me.
When I walked in the house, it was like Elsa from Frozen had been there.
What did I want to say? I’m ready to listen and apologize?
No freak’n chance.
I sooo wanted to yell, “I know you’re angry, but this is stupid. You’re overreacting… like always.”
Guess how that would end? Not well… unless you’re watching it from a distance and want to see a guy get his head ripped off like a human size prey mantis.
Instead I said, “I’m guessing you’re angry at the thing I said.”
My wife’s response was very good and controlled, “I’m so angry; I can’t even talk to you.”
And what did I want to say to this, “Take as much time as you need to calm down, and I’ll patiently wait for you”?
Nope. I’m a chaser and want to fix things right away, so my natural reaction was to want to chase her and force her to talk.
Guess how that would end? Not happily ever after.
Fortunately, I bit my tongue, made a rude comment about her in my head like, “You’re too angry to talk to me… I should make you this angry more often,” which made me giggle to myself… I think I’m clever.
I then distracted myself with some paperwork while my wife got ready for bed, and then watched TV. After about two and half hours, my wife came in and calmly said, “I was hurt because you said something that I didn’t want anyone to know, and I thought you knew that.”
My wife presented herself perfectly. She had gotten rid of enough emotion in order to share why she was upset in one clear sentence and in a controlled voice.
Too often, when we’re hurt, we ramble trying to get our point across, but the point gets lost in all the blah, blah,blah. Instead, she kept it simple and to the point, which made it easy for me to hear.
My response? I wanted to say, “But I didn’t actually give anything away. You always overreact because you’re too sensitive like a typical woman.”
Guess where that would’ve gotten me? Yeah… reading this may make you want to punch me and you’re not even the person I’m talking to in this situation.
Instead, I used self control and said, “I know that’s a sensitive thing for you, and I’m sorry; I should have been more careful.”
I may not have agreed with her feelings, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t validate her and what she felt. I’d be a huge jerk to disregard her like that… you know, like my old self would (aka a typical inconsiderate guy).
When it comes to apologizing, I don’t have to agree; I just have to help her feel cared about. As the old adage goes, “You can be right, or you can be married.”
We may naturally want to prove our point, but that doesn’t help the situation. Instead, we need to help the other person feel cared about whether it’s for us to act like a good person or to simply reduce the risk of them attacking us.
After this short discussion, my wife and I did our devotional readings and went to bed feeling a bit better… emphasis on a bit. The next day I sent a follow up apology and we moved on. It was the perfect way to handle a disagreement because:
- We used self control to not say whatever we felt like saying in the moment, which is never very nice.
- We both offered the needed space to allow ourselves to calm down and be in a better spot for talking.
- The hurt person shared the hurt in one clear sentence.
- The other person (i.e. me) didn’t defend his behavior; he simply acknowledged what was said and apologized for hurting her feelings.
- Do something after to distract yourself from the fight.
- Send a follow up apology and/or note thanking the other person for how they handled the situation since it could’ve been worse. Unless you’re dead, it could’ve been worse.
- Let it go. There will always be another reason to fight later, so why hold onto an old situation?
- BONUS TIP: You don’t have to be sorry for what you did, but you should be sorry for hurting the person.
This week may you not have to have a fight, but if you do, may it be the perfect fight where both sides feel heard and cared about.
Chad Tomlinson, MTS, MEd, MA, Rev, is an award winning therapist and published author who writes weekly blogs as a way to share the lessons he learns and is reminded of because we are all on a journey. He is a big fan of the power of humor (when appropriate) because he believes it helps people see the good in life, which adds to the healing.