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Archive for Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sparring partner must follow fighting rules

November 14, 2004

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I think I first heard the term "creative fighting" on the Oprah show. Whether it was Dr. Phil or another relationship guru who originally coined that phrase, I don't remember, but this I do know: Creative is to fighting what ethical is to politics -- an oxymoron if ever I heard one!

It's not that husband Ray and I haven't tried creative fighting ... especially that part of the exercise where one spouse makes a statement expressing his or her feelings and his or her mate responds with, "You are saying that ..."

Say that Ray observes, "You need to start walking again, Honey, you look a little out of shape." And I respond: "What you're saying, Pudgy Boy, is that I'm FAT!"

"Fat" is an absolute trigger word in fighting. You can say Pudgy Boy (it's kind of cute, don't you think?), chubby (if it's preceded with "a trifle") or plump (if it's preceded by "pleasingly"). But, FAT? No sir or ma'am. That's a fighting word, and there's nothing creative about it!

A savvy partner realizes there are limits to what you can say even in the white-hot heat of anger. For example, one of my friends doesn't like her nose. It's not an exceptionally bad nose, but she is extremely sensitive about its size and shape. "No matter how mad my husband gets at me," she once confided, "he never mentions my nose."

Another thing that should be off-limits to all fighting couples is the pronouncement, "You're just like your mother [or father]." While that sentence might be construed as a compliment under any other circumstance -- trust me on this -- it is NOT a compliment when said in anger.

What sends Ray to the boiling point with me is when I offer driving advice from the passenger side of the front seat. Ray is a very patient driver; I am not. In fact, son Greg says that my Type A personality will inevitably reveal itself in traffic and grocery stores. The other day Ray and I were halted at a four-way stop when I casually mentioned, "It's your turn."

"I know how to drive," he informed me, "I've been doing it a lot longer than you!"

Indeed he has, since he started driving a tractor at the tender age of 8. Ray's a good driver, too, and I feel safer with him behind the wheel than when I'm driving. That being the case, a smarter woman would have kept her mouth shut, but it must have been the little devil on my shoulder that made me reply, "So drive, then."

Another thing I've learned about fighting is that it is hard to continue the battle when the other combatant refuses to speak to you. Having grown up in a household where conflict was more likely to evoke fiery shouting than frozen silence, I am not good at getting -- or, for that matter, giving -- the silent treatment. It is a facet of my character with which Ray is far too familiar, if you ask my opinion.

Ray isn't any better at creative fighting than I am. When I was unpacking the groceries he picked up for me the other day, I thoughtlessly inquired, "Why did you buy this brand?"

"You're saying that I can't do anything right!" he responded defensively.

Well, yeah ... I guess that's what I was saying, but I didn't expect him to figure it out so quickly. This creative fighting idea would work a lot better if each of us could accept at face value what our mate says. The rub is that what we say and what we mean often are two very different things -- and when our mate is sharp enough to realize what we really mean ... well, make no mistake about it, the fur is gonna fly!

As far as I'm concerned, HOW you fight isn't as important as WHO you fight WITH! Frankly, I'd rather have an occasional fight with Ray than live a conflict-free life of contented boredom with another husband.

"Breakin' up," the song goes, "is hard to do." Ray and I did plenty of that when we were dating (his ring worn on a chain around my neck to symbolize our "steady" relationship was a constant blur between us, either from him demanding it back or from me throwing it at him). But our spousal fighting -- even though it's not in the least creative -- has never endangered our union. Mainly because makin' up is easy ... and fun, too!

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