Updated: Mar 17, 2022
There are lots of things you can say about fights. Some are tragic. Take what’s going on in Ukraine now. Tragic and stupid. All the more tragic for being so stupid. And by stupid I mean so totally unnecessary.
Some fights are sad. Some fights are horrible and scary.
But I gotta say most fights that couples get into are—once you get a little distance from them—hilarious. Painful, maybe destructive, but also hilarious. And ALL fights are stupid.
Take the fight my husband and I got into the other night. Here it is in my husband’s words, so you don’t think I’m putting my spin on things:
Mira came to me a few nights ago just before bed and said the Russians had invaded Ukraine. “This is it,” she said, clearly upset.
“We’ll see,” I said.
And the shit hit the fan.
Mira was furious that I wasn’t as upset as she was about what had happened. My position was that, well, a) we knew it was going to happen, so no surprise, right? and b) we don’t know what’s going to happen as a result of the invasion. So why get upset about something that was highly anticipated from the past or about which we know little in the future?
But I’m a monster for not being upset about THIS. NOW.
It didn’t help a lot when, next day, I said I don’t want to get all excited about bad things, especially bad things I can’t do anything about. I just want to get excited about good things. Mira was like, We can’t help what we get excited about!
And that is pretty much how it went, except that night Mira was so upset it took her a long time to get to sleep.
It’s like the James Thurber story (“The Breaking Up of the Winships”) when the guy gets sick of his wife going on and on about how Greta Garbo is the greatest actress and finally he says Donald Duck is a better actor that Greta Garbo, and their entire marriage blows apart.
Our fight was sooooo unnecessary. My poor husband just wanted to go to bed. Who wants to get riled up about anything just before bed? I should have been aware of that!
On the other hand, I just wanted to feel my husband was my partner. The person who’d join me in stuff that was important to me. “The Russians have invaded!” “Oh, no! That’s horrible!!” He should have known not to pour ice water on my boiling tea kettle.
But our stupid little blow up was even more unnecessary. We could have avoided it by using a little tool called FRAMING. You say what you’re gonna say, but you frame it by also say what it means to you that you’re saying it and what kind of response you’re hoping for. I could have said, “I just heard...the Russians have invaded Ukraine. This is it. I’m really upset. [Telling him what this means to me.] I’m afraid this all can turn out so badly. [Why I’m upset.] I really hope you can understand why this is so serious for me. [Making a bid for the kind of response I’m looking for.]”
This would give my poor dumb husband a lot of help in knowing what my statement to him was really all about.
But he could have done the same kind of thing even if I hadn’t. I’d just walked in steaming about the invasion, and he could have said, “Sweetie, I can see you’re upset about this. I get it. But I’m exhausted and I’m just not up to talking about this huge issue right now. Can we pick it up tomorrow morning?”
And that would have been way, way better than what he did.
So you see? What’s more hilarious than smart people being stupid? It’s like walking along and slipping on a banana peel when you’re looking down at the sidewalk the whole time.
If you’re sick of getting into painful, stupid fights with your partner—however hilarious they may be in hindsight—our most recent book, Why Couples Fight, is a must read.