New relationships frequently end over a first fight. Sometimes there isn’t even an actual fight, but one of you says/does/doesn’t do something that upsets the other and it’s over — without a word ever being a said about it.
So a first fight is important. Not that I’m encouraging you to pick one, but when it happens look at it as part of the relationship-building process. Of course, you may go for years without having a fight, and I’m not sure if that is good or bad.
Even great relationships involve differences of opinion. Both parties have to be willing to voice their opinions, even if their voices may become agitated in the process. My ex and I rarely fought in 20 years together. I saw this as a sign that we could communicate our differences without getting upset. Only in the divorce mediation did I learn there were lots of things he was upset about, but never voiced. So he became passive-aggressive instead. I interpreted his behavior as forgetfulness or moodiness, never identifying it accurately. It would have been better if we’d fought, as the issues would have then been out in the open.
The important parts of a fight to pay attention to are:
- What triggered it — Of course you can point to exactly the thing you/he said/didn’t say/did/didn’t do. But that is rarely the true cause. This action/inaction is usually a trigger from something from the past. The quicker you realize that and stop acting like it is the current event, the wiser you’ll be. And the less prone you’ll be to reacting to an ancient trigger. If your ex was always late and didn’t apologize then you’re going to be more upset with your current beau’s tardiness, even if he does apologize.
- What was said — Was there blaming, name calling, cursing, condescension? Was the anger overblown for the situation? If he calls you despicable names, you know that is a sign of deep anger issues you don’t want to be around. Within the first 10 days of dating, the crazy psychiatrist and I had a disagreement and he called me the “b” and the “c” words. I should have ended it then, but didn’t and endured more of his immaturity and unbalancedness until finally we had a fight and I never heard from him again.
- What wasn’t said — No sharing of emotion, no sharing at all — just silence. If he won’t talk about how he feels about what happened (“I felt disrespected”) and focuses only on the action, you’re going to have a hard time understanding what is going on with him. Or if he just gets silent, he’s not willing — or doesn’t have the skills — to communicate what’s happening inside. If he needs a cooling-off period, he needs to tell you so you aren’t left wondering why he’s clammed up.
- Actions — Is there stomping, door slamming, leaving in the middle of the fight, ignoring the other? These show that he doesn’t know how to deal with anger maturely. However, if he says, “I need some time to cool off so I’m going for a run,” accept that he wants to be level headed when you next talk.
- Talking about it — Did one of you bring up the upset calmly, wanting to discuss what happened? If it’s always you, that’s a yellow flag. Both of you need to be mature enough to talk about what happened. Were there apologies from both sides? It might have been you that triggered the upset, but if he overreacted or said cruel things, both of you need to apologize. Was there discussion to understand the other’s perspective? If it was just brushed under the rug, that’s a bad sign.
I find it’s not just what a guy gets upset about that tells me a lot about him. It tells me volumes how he fights (or doesn’t, thus passive-aggressiveness), as well as what happens afterwards. If a guy isn’t willing to talk about it, I know he’s not for me. While I’m not always proud of what triggers me, or how I fight, I am always willing to talk about it afterward. If there’s no processing of what happened, it doesn’t work for me.
If he’s willing to discuss it rather than just bailing because it’s an uncomfortable conversation, I know he’s interested in staying around for a while. The question here isn’t, “Are you willing to fight for me?,” it’s “Are you willing to fight with me and trust that we both care enough about the other to stick around to discuss our differences?” While I haven’t had many fights with beaus, the few times it’s happened the most common behavior is for him to just disappear afterward. A few have tried to act as if nothing happened. This is not good.
Of course, this knife cuts both ways. If you know you do any of the above (silence, stomping, name calling, etc.), then examine your own behaviors. Perhaps an anger management, assertiveness, or communication class or counseling would be of value to you, as well. I find even midlife people don’t know how to communicate maturely, especially when they are upset. There are plenty of resources on how to fight fair, but I think you have to have practice this skill in a safe environment to learn it, rather than just read about it.
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