Why Couples Fight isn’t really about fighting or power. It’s about love. And the hope of love. And how to keep love alive. That’s the point of it all: putting an end to the tragic conflicts where we end up fighting for ourselves and scorch the earth of love. Instead, to clear a way for you to bring back love.
Love as a lived thing. Not as in “Oh, I know he loves me.” That doesn’t warm the heart! We need to experience love the way we experience our heart pounding, the hair on the back of our neck standing up, our eyes filling with sweet tears. We want to feel it.
And we know how to make it happen! Affection!! That’s how we got the whole show on the road in the first place. You were affectionate with each other. Nice to each other. You said loving things. Touched each other in loving ways. Did little loving things for each other.
So today let’s try to understand what happened to all that.
A big enemy which we all know about but still underestimate is daily life. Routine. The same ol’ same ol’.
I get it. I’ve lived it, of course, as have we all! At some point, you wake up in the morning, tired and bleary-eyed, and you just don’t have that extra something you need to be lovey lovey with your partner. And so it goes.
This is actually a big problem but it’s not the biggest. At least with the daily grind, you’re still wanting to be lovey lovey.
The bigger problem is the one we wrote Why Couples Fight to address. It’s not that you have differences. It’s not even that you fight: “That’s too big!” “No, it’s not!” “Yes, it is!!” No, it isn’t!!” “It is!!!” “It isn’t!!!” Now that’s a stupid fight, but it isn’t actually harmful.
What’s harmful is the turn almost all couples take. One of you inevitably says or does something to make the other feel disempowered. “Any idiot can see that it’s too big!” one of you says, out of sheer frustration. “Who are you calling an idiot? Who just lost a ton of our money in that Game Stop craziness? And you call ME an idiot?” “At least I was trying to make back all the money you don’t earn by sitting around the house like a useless...whatever the hell you are!”
Now affection has trouble climbing the hill of humiliation and resentment. You might say you love your partner, knowing it as a kind of fact. But this is a place where spontaneous feelings of affection have been choked off.
It’s not necessarily permanent. It’s more like this. You have a fight. Power moves fly back and forth. Bad things are said and feelings are hurt. And you don’t feel good about your relationship. At some point, you break off and the fight is over, usually without a mutually satisfying solution to your conflict. Then?
Then you both make distance. Hours, days, weeks, whatever. One of you heals faster than the other and makes peace overtures. But the other is still hurt and rebuffs the peace overture. “You think it’s that easy? I’m not ready to kiss you now. I don’t know when I will be ready.”
If the not-ready person is not ready for too long, the ready person will feel rebuffed, and hurt, and rejected, and so starts another cycle of distance.
And here’s the thing. The longer warmth and affection aren’t happening, the harder it is to go back. Being all lovey lovey feels...weird when you’ve both been on ice for too long. It’s like if you’re a dancer. You can take a couple of days off. A week. But a year? It can feel awkward getting back in the groove at that point. And if you keep taking too much time off, dancing can stop feeling like your thing. And so can love.
Here’s another thing. The longer warmth and affection aren’t happening, the easier it is to get into power struggles. You have less to lose.
Okay, enough of this. However this may sound, I’m not being negative. That’s because none of this has to happen, just the way no has to be run over by a bus. The positive thing, the hopeful thing is that a lifetime of love that’s alive, that feels alive, that’s beats with the pulse of affection, can be yours.
Our new book Why Couples Fight is about how to get rid of the bad stuff. Heading into Valentine’s Day, in the next two posts, I’ll show you how to have more of the good stuff.