Art & Writing by Christina M. Turner


On Fighting

I once had a well meaning woman INSIST that she and her husband of 30+ years had never, once, had a fight.  They had discussions that remained absolutely civil at all times.  She claimed this was merely a symptom of a healthy, functioning, adult relationship. I was, and still am, wholeheartedly skeptical of such an assertion.

I grew up in a household filled to the brim and spilling over with love, and with passion.  We fought, all of us, individually and teaming up against each other.  The goal was of course to come out the victor, to "prove" to everyone else that we were right, to force them to admit it out loud.  Fights could go on all day, you could go to your room, seething, come out hours later and it would start back up again.  In many cases, arguments were a sort of sport.  My sister and I might oppose my mother simply to test our chops and measure ourselves against her specific brand of unyielding, un-flowery, but often twisty logic.  I considered myself to be good at it, and more than I care to admit, I enjoyed it.

But winning an argument does not, in fact, make you right.  And outside our house, I quickly learned that the prize for passion was usually the loss of a close friendship. I learned to keep my opinions to myself, and to reclassify everything I knew as mere opinion.  I forgot how to assert myself, and learned instead to keep the peace at all costs.

And then I got married. And the process of trying to figure out how to blend the patterns of two childhoods into one new household has forced me to look again at what, how, and when I choose to take a stand.  Being a human being who cares about what happens around her tends to interact with other complex variables like weather, how work went, unrelated thoughts and fears, number of times I've previously kept silent on a perceived injustice, and slight variances in tone that have more to do with my husband's blood sugar level than the passive indictment I initially assume it to be. And once again I find my adrenaline pulsing and my voice raised in self righteous anger.

Checkmate! My husband is teaching me how to play chess. I won the very first game, and exactly zero games since.

Checkmate! My husband is teaching me how to play chess. I won the very first game, and exactly zero games since.

I expect to be roundly bopped on the head with rhetoric, a Rock Em Sock Em robots style tit-for-tat that has played out thousands of times for me.  Gloves come off, and let's see how we really feel. At this moment anyway.

But my husband, through some alchemy of how he was raised, the psych classes he took in college, and his own incredibly winning desire to actually listen to me and see things from my point of view, usually starts by picking apart my overstatements and generalizations ("Do I really *always* blank?" or "You're really *constantly* blank?") which requires that I slow down long enough to revise my arguments and make my language more precise.  When I rephrase the sentiment, though, is when he goes in for the kill: he says nothing.  Then when I'm finished, he looks me in the eyes and says, "I had no idea you felt that way."

I would still consider these impassioned conversations fights.  But the most transformative thing happens when the goal of the fight is not to end up on different sides, but to realign.  Not to be right, but to understand the other.  Recognising that you're not actually one hivemind person is sometimes painful, but can ultimately be exciting.  You fell in love with an entirely separate being, and recognising that a fight can only occur when both parties care enough to stick around through it is a wonder.