The first rule of Fight Club is…
You know how it goes. And it’s precisely that rule that causes people to have chesties when they get married and find themselves fighting with their partners, in a way that doesn’t end in explosive make-up sex or romcom emo catharsis. It’s also that rule that causes people to judge couples when they aren’t behaving like in a 90s R ‘n B video.
We don’t readily talk about how common fighting is in marriage. We’ve been sold dreams about marriage and how love is (and grows) in it. You will love each other fiercely, and you will fight. Other things also happen, but what I’m saying is that fighting is one of them.
Obviously, I’m not saying that all types of fighting are fine and ok, or even that you should look for a fight in every situation. I’m saying that married people fight. It’s not necessarily an indication of how much they love each other, or the quality of the relationship, either. It’s just one of those things.
In a healthy relationship, the issue is not if you will fight, the issue is how you fight. How you manage tension and conflict is what makes the fights in your relationship either constructive or toxic. And don’t get me wrong, even the most necessary and constructive fights can be painful AF.
Alliancepartner and I have been together for just over 3 years, and married for 2. We loved each other as friends first, and I feel that it’s that foundation that’s given our relationship it’s strength. We don’t fight much, but we have had our fair share, and we will have more. Throughout our friendship, and very early on in our relationship we had a bunch of conversations about ‘control dramas’ and ‘love languages’. At first, the conversations were general but when we became a couple, they became about getting to know our fighting and loving styles.
We talked about which love language/s and control drama/s the other had, and which ones we’d seen in our parents. We talked about what reactions our language of conflict and love elicited on the other person, and how that either made things better or worse. We’d always had a brutally honest communication style, but somehow, that took on new dimensions when we’d caught feelings.
These conversations were difficult but they helped us understand each other and ourselves more, from each other’s perspective, first as friends, then as lovers, but it didn’t stop us from fighting in the first year of our relationship.
It wasn’t until we started pre-marital counselling, that we were really able to take what we were learning about and from each other, and our fights, and make it work for us. The timing of this was perfect, because we were able to work, imperfectly but consistently on our shit at the same time as huge changes. We were planning to get married and we were expecting BabyLeader.
We’ve been talking lately about how much better we are handling the wahala of Tiny Oga’s rule, AND dealing with a toddler and other life stress. We are doing so much better than we did when BabyLeader first came into our lives. We think we have worked out why: We have rules.
1. We don’t fight dirty.
We don’t come with Tong Po tactics. No low blows and sneak attacks. Sometimes this means waiting a little, and breathing, before saying something, or putting a disclaimer before we read each other for filth. Our favourite disclaimer is: “I’d like to say how I feel”. In the past, we used to just come out like 📷
Sometimes, we are not ready to listen. And we say so, whereas before, the other person would be sitting there like 📷
This one is very difficult because it takes one person to call a time-out when things are lit, but someone has to bring the conversation back to what it’s actually about, and not let it go off on a tangent.
3. Friendly matches.
We routinely check in with each other. We talk every week about how things have been, what we liked and didn’t like about each other. We also give feedback on our own behaviour towards each other. This can get tense, but no interruptions are allowed, and also 1 rebuttal per point, so we can keep it moving.
4. White Flag.
Sometimes, you’re right and you gotta just apologize and calm the situation. Sometimes it’s not about being wrong or right, but we get too vex in a fight, and it needs to end because now you’re just ranting, or it’s gone on for too long. This obviously only works because we both do it. It’s not compromise if only one person does it. And when we let something go, we really have to let it go.
5. Rules of Engagement
We have rules to regulate ourselves and help us to choose our battles. Basic things like : don’t interrupt, no arguments allowed after 9pm, no arguments allowed in bed, and other rules that help us to choose our words, for example. This causes us to really evaluate what is worth a fight, or if we just need to suck it up and be strong.
We don’t have it all the way figured out, but we put in a great deal of effort into our communication, because we not only want to make our relationship better for ourselves, but we want our children to grow up in a family that lives love and honesty. We are working on getting our fights to be more like capoeira Angola, and not like boxing.