When the Fighting Stops
It’s not always a good sign
Posted Nov 22, 2016
"Wait—what?" exclaimed Victor.” You wanna go back into therapy now? Because we’re not fighting? You mean you wanna go back to the ‘good ol’ days’ when we were always at each other’s throat?”
"Well, maybe not exactly that” Jen reflected. “But when we were fighting, at least we were connecting, though, yeah, it was violent sometimes. But didn’t that at least mean we cared about what it was like to be together? But now, since all that’s been put to rest, it’s like the craziness isn’t gone, but is hiding out like a ghost in a haunted house!”
"But we went into therapy to stop fighting!”
"Well, yeah, we went into therapy so we’d stop connecting punches—but not to stop connecting! I can’t help feeling we’ve made some kind of mistake. The quiet isn’t really peaceful. In fact, it’s almost sad, like something died. You know, we did like being together once upon a time—remember? So lately, I’ve sorta wondered if I actually missed fighting with you because I miss getting sweaty with you.” Jen hesitated, then added, “I know I miss getting sweaty about you!”
Sanity may be simply defined as soundness of mind. This definition implies the ability to find better ways to get through conflict with others, especially people we’re close to, without repeating maladaptive patterns. Depending on the couple’s history, the disappearance of overt hostility and aggression may signal that something vital has been placed on hold, or even lost.
At the same time, a repetitive pattern of friction or hostility may reveal an irrelationship dynamic that the couple unconsciously uses to shield themselves from frightening aspects of intimacy: empathy, mutual emotional investment, and the vulnerability that comes with such investment. Additionally, distancing oneself from her or his feelings hampers personal growth and productivity, and may even cause a couple to feel trapped and, like a cornered dog, to bite anyone who gets too close—a pattern known as defensive aggression.
"What happened? Where did it go?” Jen wondered. “Was it just ‘the honeymoon is over’? Financial pressures? We fought about—and worked through—those things. Then, for some reason, about the time things calmed down, we stopped working on the house. It was as if all our dreams got cancelled when the fighting stopped. Now our house feels like a half-finished graveyard.”
“Yeah,” Victor answered, “but at least we’re not trying to kill each other anymore. Isn’t that an improvement?”
When Jen and Victor went into couples’ counseling, they learned some behaviors that helped them to step back from their increasingly violent arguments. Thinking that’s what they’d gone into therapy for, they stopped without having identified the conflict and unease behind the state of disengagement they’d unconsciously built into their relationship. This disengagement isolated them from each other even more than the bad feelings created by their fighting. They later discovered that by fighting they were acting out an ongoing shared but thwarted desire to stay connected with each other.
"Well,” said Jen, “at first it seemed like an improvement, but now that we’re not at each other’s throats, I have no idea what’s going on between us, even though it looks like things have only gotten ‘better.’ But I don’t think it actually feels that way.”
“I know,” Victor agreed, “but I was still glad to get a break. Even our little disagreements jumped from bickering to fistfights before I even knew what we were talking about. I admit it was kinda exciting for awhile. But it got to where, somehow, I knew it wasn’t about fighting: what was there to be so angry about? I mean, who goes from zero to a hundred the minute they see each other at the end of the day?”
“Well,” Jen countered, then paused, almost shy. “We used to—in the bedroom, I mean. And sometimes on the couch when we started out making plans for the house,” She stopped and giggled. “And remember that time in the garage?”
“Oh, yeah,” Victor grinned. “And then we got so busy with our own ‘house projects’ that before long we’d stopped crashing at the same time. And I admit that, at first, I liked ‘doing my own thing’ with the house while you were busy with what you were doing—usually at the opposite end of the house. But then I started getting pissed off, thinking you were avoiding me. But actually, I was doing exactly the same thing. And then the fighting started.”
“And then, when we switched off the fighting, it was like we’d also switched off everything that had been so much fun—at least, at first,” Jen said sadly.
“You know,” said Victor, “I’m glad you had the courage to start a tough conversation. All of a sudden, I'm feeling that old spark!”
“Oh yeah,” Jen said, jumping up. “Me, too! Let's go!”
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