I did a post a while back called “How to fight with your spouse.” Usually the underlying start of a fight is something stupid, or maybe it is something that has been building up and you haven’t communicated it, and then it blows up like a powder keg. The latter is entirely on you and your lack of communication skills. You can’t expect your spouse to know how you feel about whatever indiscretion or slight you’re seeing from your perspective. In fact, it may not even be on their radar screen. While women especially get the bad rap of “You should know why I’m mad at you,” men do it too.
But what I wanted to talk about today is the first one – the random sniping and verbal diarrhea that so often happens in any relationship, where your brain and mouth are running train of thought and one party takes it as a major blow to their ego starting a fight in the process. My wife and I are in a good spot, and have been for awhile, but we’re not immune to this. I’ll give you some examples where maybe it hasn’t started a fight, but one of us had ego bruised, and it could have spiraled:
- Holly has this habit of trying to talk to me or request things of me from one or two rooms away. It’s super annoying, since I often can’t really understand or hear her. So what happens is she’ll say something (two rooms away), and I’ll say “What?” since I didn’t here her. Then she’ll say “Alex?!” again, louder this time, because she didn’t hear me say “what” and then I’ll yell “WHAT?!” in an annoyed tone – which she then takes offense and says some shit like “Why are you yelling at me?” This happens all. the. time.
- I’m a whirling dervish in kitchen, and am not the gentlest creature with plates and bowls and glasses, breaking much more than my fair share. My wife will verbalize her train of thought about my handling of cookware or putting away dishes while she’s sitting there playing on an iPad. So ego bruised, I’ll snipe back saying something like “well at least I’m doing something,” which hurts her feelings, often resulting in the “why are you always picking on me?” Ugh.
- Anyone with kids knows managing multiple kid activities can be challenging. As a result we use a shared Google calendar with scheduled events and locations. This week, there was a mix up on picking up Birdsnest after her basketball practice – Holly went to practice location B, instead of A that was noted in the calendar. She felt it was my fault for not telling her before she left the house, and I was miffed since it was in the calendar correctly and she never asked. Anyways, two egos riled up and while it wasn’t a big deal (the kid waited a few extra minutes with her friends/coach) it blew into hurt feelings on both sides.
That ego is a funny thing. If you read anything about it (I’m a fan of Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now but I’ve read other books on the topic), you begin to understand that the ego is there for self preservation and really is not often a rationale thing. Left unabated, the ego will attack (put people down), to make itself feel better. It will seek out research that supports itself or its bias and to “win.” It will defend itself when attacked. It is out for itself.
Instead of going through life attacking/defending so often, especially when in reality it’s not the person who is attacking you but their ego (and often, they don’t mean much by the comments, which is why I refer to it as verbal diarrhea – they don’t love you any less, they’re just hurt(ing) themselves). We need to be conscious of this fact, and do our best to say to ourselves “I know this person isn’t really attacking me, therefore, I have no reason to defend myself by saying snide comments back” and let the comments wash over you. As Tolle says:
You can then express your thoughts and feelings to each other as soon as they occur, or as soon as a reaction comes up, so that you do not create a time gap in which an unexpressed or unacknowledged emotion or grievance can fester and grow. Learn to give expression to what you feel without blaming. Learn to listen to your partner in an open, nondefensive way. Give your partner space for expressing himself or herself. Be present. Accusing, defending, attacking — all those patterns that are designed to strengthen or protect the ego or to get its needs met will then become redundant. Giving space to others — and to yourself — is vital. Love cannot flourish without it. When you have removed the two factors that are destructive to relationships — when the pain-body has been transmuted and you are no longer identified with mind and mental positions — and if your partner has done the same, you will experience the bliss of the flowering of relationship. Instead of mirroring to each other your pain and your unconsciousness, instead of satisfying your mutual addictive ego needs, you will reflect back to each other the love that you feel deep within, the love that comes with the realization of your oneness with all that is. This is the love that has no opposite.
Now this isn’t always easy if you’re attempting to do this and your partner isn’t, but you can’t control other people only yourself. If you can start to control your own emotions, and maybe get into dialogue about why they are saying things like that to get the other person to think about it more (without being defensive), maybe you can start to change the other’s perspective.
Back in the day I did some conflict resolution classes the teacher referred to as “Verbal Judo.” Judo means “the gentle way” and redirects energy and attacks so they are non-damaging to you. In doing this practice with our spouse or in other relationships, we can deflect those hurtful egoic comments and try to find out what the real issue is. Maybe the other person had a bad day and is simply grumpy, so takes it out on you without intention. Maybe they are upset about something else you did, but aren’t ready to talk about it. Regardless, it takes two egos going head to head to start a fight, so if you let the comments wash over you without getting upset, you’ll deescalate the situation quickly. It’s hard, it takes consciousness and practice, but it can be done. And if you do find yourself in a fight, remember my tips.
However, I’m not advocating letting the other person walk all over you and treat you badly. You need to stand up for repeatedly poor behavior and call them out. But it takes tact and gentleness or else they (or rather, their ego) may feel attacked and therefore get defensive instead of getting to the root of their behavior. My wife has a strong ego, and it stems from her insecurities. While I still get riled up sometimes from her antics, I also realize where it’s coming from, and try hard not to engage my own ego. I will call her on her attacks and try to get to the “why,” but it’s not always easy. Mostly it comes from how the other perceives themselves, and it comes from a place of vulnerability. It is on them to change that. Meditation, yoga, and self-reflection are all great tools for both you and your partner to draw in positive energy, find gratitude in what you have (including marriage), and draw strength from within and not from what you have, how you look, or how others think of you. A post I did about a year ago about improving things from the inside out and allowing happiness and satisfaction come about in light of life’s distractions.
Anyway, a little more philosophical today, but with the cold winter in much of the country, dark mornings and evenings, it is the time of year of Vitamin D deficiency, seasonal affective disorder and I’d surmise tougher times being upbeat with ourselves. Stay conscious of the fact that some of these things are not your fault, or even your partner’s fault, don’t engage in bait for petty arguments, and you’ll come out of the winter in a better place. Peace.