If you were like most people, you had at least one spat with a loved one during the Covid-19 lockdown. Maybe it was set off by the stress of distancing; maybe you and your partner were not aligned about using masks; maybe your friends got too close. Whatever the overt reasons for fighting, the pandemic has been a time of stress and friction. Much as we would like to remain calm, happy and benign, there is more than enough opportunity for irritation and conflict.
When conflicts happen, we usually focus on the surface reasons for reacting and snapping back; we seldom take the time to look at what is really going on underneath. Conflict has deep roots and if the underlying emotional charge is not addressed and resolved, resentments resurface and cause a new fight at a different time and place. Most often fights happen when one or more of the contestants are tired, stressed or feeling emotionally depleted. That is when our skin get thin and we feel as if everything is designed to irritate us.
In relationship, there is always tension between my needs, your needs and the needs of the relationship. We are always struggling with balancing autonomy and attachment. We have to be our own person but also have to compromise our selfish desire in service of the other person. Because we are emotionally attached to the relationship, subtle slights, criticisms and rejection by our partner feel like thorns in our flesh; we take them personally.
In general, fights come down to one thing: my view of reality is better than yours! We feel we have to impose our particular view of the world, our take on each situation, onto the other person. We believe we are reasonable, we are in the right and the other should absolutely agree. But our particular perspective, our universe is never an exact replica of our partners; to a greater or lesser extent, we live in different worlds.
I want you to be different—change the way you see things, the way you think and feel, the way you behave. And you want to change me. Naturally, you do not want to change and I see no reason to do so. I interpret your pressure to be different as telling me I am wrong and flawed—inadequate. You believe my desire to change you says I do not love you as you are–rejected.
So we get self-protective, defending our world view from intrusion of the other—in some ways a very healthy response. But not that useful in a fight. Defensiveness leads to distance which reinforces our feelings of lack and loss. Unconsciously, we protect ourselves from the positive changes that would help love. We demand the other be different without recognizing that we too must change.
If we want to fight less, we have to recognize that we can only change ourselves, not our partner. In the midst of the battle, can we remember it is better to be loving than to be right? Are we courageous enough to say we are sorry first? Can we make agreements when things are calm about what works best for both of us? Some fights are necessary, some do clear the air but too much conflict is wearing and destructive. Decide to put love first–before your need to be right, before your wish to win, before the impulse to retaliate.