Fighting And The Damage To Relationships


Welcome! I hope that today you are doing well and your life is filled with joy. I hope you are feeling good as you read this.

For pleasure, I’ve been listening the Audible production of a series of books by Steven Burst. The most recent book is called Teckla: Vlad Taltos, Book 3.

I love to listen to fantasy stories like this one with fighting, cool characters, and complex situations. Steven does a great job of feeding my inner kid with the stories of fantasy and adventure.

But in this book I ran into something unexpected. The main character Vlad and his wife Cawti get into an argument. The author does a magnificent job of describing this fight and the details of the two days thereafter, so much so that I was transported back in time to fights I’ve had, with my wife and ex-wife, and problems of the relationships thereafter.

So I began to ponder how is it now that I do not have the experience of these kind of fights in my life today. How is it now that I no longer have those periods of multiple days of smoldering recovery from minor issues that come up between two people? Why are all the memories of fights like that so old?

I rarely ponder such things because those old memories bring up the pain, which is uncomfortable. However, once asked, the question needed to be answered and my brain was ready to go to as always.

What I quickly realized was that I had no direct answer to the question. I really didn’t have a quick answer as to what was different. So I started to analyze it.

I started by analyzing the nature of a fight. Fighting for me has always come from a perceived loss by one person caused by the other, a perceived slight as a result of disregarding, ignoring, abandoning, abusing, or blaming of the other person. We’ll call the person who believes they have been wronged the Victim, and the person who perpetrated the act, the Perpetrator.

Sometimes the Perpetrator additionally makes the issue worse by doing something like one of the following:

  1. Lying about the situation
  2. Blaming the victim for the behavior that made them feel slighted
  3. Not being willing to sit down and discuss the situation
  4. Repeating the same behavior that lead to the argument
  5. Ignoring the issue, attempting to change the subject, or overreacting when lovingly confronted
  6. Overworking
  7. Disappearing to television, video games, or books
  8. Suddenly “getting sick” e.g. stomach ache, headache, etc…
  9. Getting drunk or high
  10. Isolating from friends and family
  11. Trying to make everything ok by taking over their partner’s or friend’s responsibilities

With both the perceived slight and the follow-up behaviors, the Perpetrator and Victim together have effectively put a double tap to the head of their relationship. With no perceivable way out of the situation they cannot hope to come to any resolution.

When I would find myself in these situations, on either side, I would feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and often end up in a funk (depression) for several days.

Even after my funk would lapse and I would starting acting like nothing had happened, it would still linger under the surface for weeks, months, or longer, like a wound that wouldn’t heal. Sometimes the wounds would never heal, and the relationship suffered permanent damage.

In my current relationship this has stopped. My wife Erin and I do not have this dynamic in our current relationship, and here is why — we each have agreed to the following:

  • I am responsible for my thoughts feelings actions and attitudes. I am not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, actions, and attitudes of others.
  • I will not run away or hide from my problems. I will face them and address the issues.
  • I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest.
  • I will not make myself sick or go crazy. I will take care of myself so I can remain healthy.
  • I will not harm others or provoke others to harm me. I will keep myself safe and be safe with others.
  • I will not be passive. I will be proactive.
  • I will work to eliminate isolation, addiction, and codependency in my life.

Once we each made these agreements we worked to get good at following them. We built our own support network so that we did not need to engage with each other when one of us didn’t follow through on the agreements. We did our own therapy. We each held ourselves accountable so the other didn’t have to.

Over the next few years not only were we able to avoid new fights, we actually could go back to earlier incidents and work through them with new understanding and open dialog. Once started, we didn’t even have to discuss every past transgression. Once we had each taken ownership of our part in the breakdown of a few, it served as a template for the rest and without even discussing all the events we were able to move past them all.

So today I realize that it’s not really about avoiding fights. Its not even about what my partner does or doesn’t do. It’s about holding on to my agreements and following through on them for myself.

This gets easier and easier to do the longer and more times I do it. Today my fear of abandonment and PTSD are mostly muted. No longer am I often triggered the way I used to be, but sometimes when I’m feeling tired, hurt, or scared, I can regress back to that old way of thinking. Then, no matter how minor the slight, if I don’t follow my agreements I can get triggered and I start shooting holes in the relationship out my own fear and hurt. So, I hold on to the agreements like a honey badger defends his dinner.

Because, what I know now is that reducing the damage to your relationships starts first with your own self care, self awareness, and accountability for your own beliefs, behaviors, and outcomes.

If you have a dynamic of damaging your relationship by fighting with your partner, I know it can feel overwhelming. I know the dynamic can make you feel out of control or even crazy. I know it can make you oh soooo angry.

My message to you is that the power to change your life is in you. I know you can do it. I know you can overcome your past and find your way. You may need to get a therapist to help you. You will be aided by developing a stronger relationship with a higher power. You definitely want to get with other people and form a posse because we can’t do this alone.

We are not islands, but we are responsible for ourselves. Isolation, addiction, and codependency will unravel our sanity and lead us away from serenity. Even in their most mild forms, they can prevent us from taking care of ourselves. Work to eliminate these things.

With love and joy, I wish you all green lights.

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