Sep 6, 2016

How Ryan and I Fight

Or rather, how Ryan and I resolve fights.  I've been thinking about this since reading The Happiness Project.  I loved the book, but her description of her relationship and the intended improvements just made me think about how much I prefer me and Ryan's way.  Anyway, I kind of figured we all enjoy taking vicarious peeks into each other's lives, right?  You've already seen my closets, so now we'll move on to something more personal...

Dating Ryan was an interesting experience for me.  I was much more accustomed to yelling, cussing, and occasionally throwing things or punching walls, so the idea that one could disagree without "fighting" was a novel one.  After 5 years, my definition (yours might differ) of the different types of disputes are these:
  • Fighting - physical, things get thrown or doors slammed, etc
  • Arguing - raised voices, yelling, insults or curse words
  • Disagreeing - a respectful, though often emotional, discussion of our difference of opinion

Ryan and I never fight anymore.  We occasionally argue, but it's rare.  For the most part we've managed to settle into a pattern that involves handling emotions before they have time to blow up, and recognizing what our own feelings are.

I don't think we're any kind of relationship experts and I know there's areas we could improve upon, but overall I'm really proud of us for the progress we've made.  Because after I wore through Ryan's shield of Southern politeness, we did have some nasty fights.  There are certain barriers we've never crossed: physical violence between the two of us, or calling each other a cuss word (though cuss words have been involved aplenty, just never applied directly), but you can still cause plenty of mayhem without going to those places.

The catalyst for us was not some burst of revelation or self reflection.  I just happened to pick up Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, and after that I kept going on my self help journey.  The improvements to our relationships are equal parts utilizing the suggestions from relationship books and me working on becoming better all by myself.  I've written about Men are From Mars, and also The Five Love Languages, so I won't rehash what I learned.  Instead I'll just describe what our relationship looks like now.

Increased Emotional Awareness

Ryan and I are very normal, cynical, and often crabby people.  So it doesn't take much to irritate one of us, though I'll very candidly admit it's more likely to be me.  A lot of times what starts as a small irritation will pile onto other dissatisfactions and then I'd be upset and not always know why.  I also didn't understand why I got so upset about chores until I read about the love languages and realized mine is acts of service.  I'm much better now at identifying what I'm feeling and then ferreting out the reason behind that feeling, but it used to take time and sometimes I'd have to put the pause on our argument so I could go and be alone and figure out what was really bothering me.  Knowing what you're upset about is so much better than plunging into an arguments and just lashing out about every wrong thing the other person has done in your entire relationship!

Not Bottling

In the past I would have gotten irritated over tasks left undone or upset about whatever stupid thing, and then fumed about it until I was ready to explode and completely incapable of bringing it up calmly.  Now, when I feel that first twinge of irritation, I examine that feeling and decide, "How important is it to me that Ryan do this?"  If it's going to continue to bother me, I ask him as soon as physically possible and, to his credit, he almost always obliges, which immediately removes all resentment the undone task might have caused in the first place.

Just Asking

This goes hand in hand with not bottling.  I feel like women tend to be more empathetic and more intuitive and more likely to do nice things because they anticipate that the other person will appreciate it.  That is not Ryan's strong suit, and for a long time I didn't want to ask him for anything because "he should just know" or "it's not genuine if I have to ask for it."  Not that anyone's asking, but my advice is to just get over that.  Men are not mind-readers.  For that matter, women are not mind-readers.  You can hint and beat around the bush all you want, but no matter who you're talking to, you're much more likely to get what you want if you just ask.  And I ask , or even just direct, about the most ridiculous mundane stuff.  "Tell me I'm pretty."  "Give me a hug."  "Please listen without problem solving."  "Tell me what a good job I did on this project."  Sure it feels better when he volunteers compliments, but I think the directions remind him that those things are important to me and he's more likely to do it on his own after being asked a few times.

Lavish Praise

On a similar note, we both make a point of praising the crap out of each other.  We say thank you for every little chore that we notice the other person has done.  Dishes, making dinner, taking care of dogs, etc.  And when one of us wants praise for something that went unnoticed, we'll tell the other person, "I cleaned the bathrooms" or "I took the trash out" and then receive that thanks or congratulations or whatever it might be.  I'm sure not needing praise at all would elevate us to a higher plane of being, but we're greedy, simple creatures and this keeps us feeling appreciated.

I'm sure there's other changes, too, but those are the ones that stick out the most in my mind.  Oh, and I guess since I titled this "how we fight" I should give an outline.

Ryan and Jenn's Disagreements: an Outline

  1. Problem arises
  2. Ryan and I notice that we're getting irritated and stop to figure out why
  3. Ryan and I take turns explaining our side of things using the cheesiest, non-confrontational language possible.  "I feel frustrated when..." "___ makes me feel ___"  "I feel..." "I feel..." "I feel..."
  4. We actually listen to the other person and let them finish before jumping in with our side
  5. Conclusion is reached and, usually, a plan of action is created to prevent this same thing from continuing to be a problem

Number 4 is really important for me because if I don't get all my thoughts out, I'll remember it later and it will feel unresolved and we'll have to do it again.  Sometimes I write out bullet points or send emails to make sure I clear out my head completely.  And also because drafting something 5 times gives me a chance to let go of some anger and soften my language (the first draft is usually the vent-y, no restraints one and then I edit until all that's left is what needs to be said to resolve the issue).

It's not always possible, but I also try my hardest to put myself in Ryan's shoes.  If he's done something I don't like, I try to remember a time I've done something similar or equivalent.  If an action of his has hurt me, I try to imagine a scenario in which I could have done whatever the thing is.  I try to imagine how he's feeling, and to admit when I was the one who instigated the problem or negative feelings or whatever it is.

And sometimes, on rare occasions when we truly are bickering about nothing, we both recognize that it's just a cranky day and we retreat to separate corners to get some solitude.  I don't believe in the "don't go to bed angry" rule.  Oftentimes, the morning brings me peace and a better perspective to approach the problem.  I also tend to use anger as a shield to avoid feeling hurt, so trying to resolve something before I've worked through that initial stage is pointless.  I have to be aware and be willing to set it aside to make any real progress and sometimes, even though I've gotten much better at recognizing it, I'm still too childish to be willing to give up that anger right away.

Like I said, we're not perfect.  But I'm still proud of us.  We've come a long way and we're both still actively working on it.  I think we both subscribe to the idea that self improvement is a lifelong journey, and we both get a lot of satisfaction out of the fact that when other people are complaining about their spouses we don't feel the need to jump in with our own grievances.  If we have a problem, our spouse is the first to know, not whoever we felt like complaining to.

For the record, this is not advice.  This is just what has worked for us.  I've tried to give advice before, and I've gotten in the middle of relationships and I think I finally realize I don't belong anywhere but in my own relationship.  Just because I've worked through some stuff doesn't mean that my path or process will help someone else and most people can't be helped until they decide to change.  It's an inward process that everyone needs to tackle for themselves.

How do you and your significant other fight?  Do you read relationship books?  Got any you'd recommend?

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  1. Though I'm a firm believer that some fighting is healthy in a relationship, Blue and I hardly even argue. I guess we compromise most often, but I really can't remember the last time we even disagreed about something. The last heated arguments I had were with exes, and it was more yelling than anything else. I used to read relationship and/or self-help books and the advice almost always said to use wording like you and Ryan use like "I feel... when you do this it makes me..." This was interesting. I'm glad you found a method that works for you guys!

  2. I seriously need to get on The Happiness Project because it seems to apply to so many aspects of life! I love that you guys have fighting down to an art lol. Chris and I don't really fight that often and when we do we usually can work it out pretty quickly. I tend to be the one who bottles things up and I think he does sometimes too so that is what we work on the most.

  3. i basically could have written this myself. using your definitions, KC and I never fight. we don't yell or throw things or slam doors. i think when we first started dating, we yelled, but that's it. other relationships have included slamming doors and throwing/punching things. i'm glad KC and I don't have that. for the most part we just bicker or snap at each other, or one of us (like you, i can admit it's more likely to be me) gets irritated over something and lets it fester and for the most part i don't know what is actually wrong. KC used to ask me what was wrong, and then get mad when i would say nothing, and then later on i'd bring it up. i wasn't purposefully saying nothing to stew on it, but i needed to like, process it, think about it on my own and sometimes i'd resolve it myself or the time would just make it less important. also, 100% i had to stop thinking of KC like he's the exact same as me. of course he isn't. i knew that, but i'd get annoyed when he wouldn't react the way i expected/wanted, or when he didn't care about the dishes but got annoyed with the floors instead, like who cares if there is cat hair on the floor, we have 3 cats! but the dishes are gross! lol. anyway. just accepting that we are different and he will almost never say no to me if i want him to do something or us to do something together, but he can't say yes if i don't ask. bottling it up helps no one.
    oh and absolutely yes to going to bed. sleep almost always makes it better, staying up till 3am screaming literally never has.
    this was so interesting! thanks for sharing :) i admit i am super nosy and hope you share when baby comes into the picture because i have a feeling you and i are very similar, not sure about Ryan and KC but i think they are too, and it's something i am worried about (i am worried i will do all the things and not accept help and then resent KC for not helping lol)


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