My wife and I have been married for five years and we still can’t seem to answer the question, “how often do you guys fight?” It’s funny, when I was single I felt like couples either said, “we never fight” or “we fight all the time”. Maybe I’ve just been conditioned to think it has to be one or the other.
Truth be told, I was led to believe “fighting” was an inevitable part of a marriage. You’ve probably heard some of the same things I did about couples who don’t argue are in trouble because they are hiding things.
The truth is, we stumble into trying to explain how we often disagree and sometimes get heated, but never really fight. I think what we are trying to say is that we often have conflict. Fight has such a negative connotation; I think it makes couples feel uncomfortable. But confrontation? You bet. We’ve had our fair share.
Flipping The Fight
I would even say we have gotten comfortable with the idea there will sometimes be conflict. I’m not saying we chase it, but we are not as terrified of it as we were when newlywed.
I think the main reason is because we really believe that we are on the same team. Kylie can say things to me nobody else can because I know how much she loves me and how committed she is to exploring the truth with me, no matter how uncomfortable it may get.
What we have done is a very subtle, but powerful thing. I think the concept of conflict, when applied practically, really needs to be a fight. There needs to be an enemy, something to be “against”.
Too often, people who otherwise care deeply for one another assume the enemy is their partner. We see it all the time, even in our own marriage. We rearrange stories so one of us (the one telling usually) sounds like a hero and the other is more easily cast as a buffoon. And when emotions are high and you are face to face with someone, it is easy to see them as the enemy. It is easy to see the person who triggered your emotion as the thing you are supposed to be “against”.
But the way to resolve conflict without devolving into a battle of egos is to make the enemy something else.
In our marriage, we talk about a value for truth and pursuing truth together. Kylie views the world so much differently than I do and one of the things I love about her is she says things and perceives things that I have totally missed that help me better understand the truth. We bring a fuller picture of what is true by being together. Part of that, inevitably, is engaging in conflict with one another. We learn through exposing our difference of perspective and then resolving it through honest and humble conversation. The truth about marriage is you grow in intimacy and truth by enduring conflict together.
And so, the enemy is not the other person. The enemy is falsehood. The incomplete narratives we believe to be total – the things we tell ourselves. The biases we have internalized as empirical truths. The short-sided-ness of not understanding you can be “right” in one way but still not have a full grasp of the truth (i.e. you can have a fact straight but still fail to see the value of grace and compassion).
So, at our best, we fight against the lies we believe. We fight against inaccurate predisposition and our emotions’ insistence on self-justification. We fight all the time. Just not against one another. Thankfully, we have conflict as a tool.