• Tue, May 10 2011

The Heart Monitor: Keep Fighting the Good Fight

In the course of a serious relationship, fighting is inevitable. Any woman who tells you that she and her man never fight is either lying to your face, delusional, or has an imaginary boyfriend. She should be avoided at all costs.

But fighting is healthy! That’s what I tell myself. I mean, it’s certainly better for you and your relationship than constantly holding back and burying unhappiness and anger deep inside until one day a sink full of dirty dishes causes an eruption of manic psychosis that ends with a jail sentence.

Couples have the same fights over and over again. Some of those fights are irreparable. Jealousy, for example, is nearly impossible to overcome. Couples will argue week after week—and eventually year after year—about the same ex-girlfriend. Certain compulsory fetishes are difficult to wrap one’s head (or foot, or hot pink flagellation device) around. Vastly differing political views were never a good starting point for any solid relationship.

In the vicious recycling of arguments, I think ours are harmless. After we fight, we try to learn from it. We talk out what happened, and make an attempt to right future wrongs. At least that’s what we say we do.

To prove we’re learning valuable lessons about each other—and not just shadow boxing in a vacuum—I logged our last few fights. The lesson? Spoiler alert! We’re really boring.

May 8, 2011: We’re in a local craft store looking for a gift for my mother. I decide a set of ceramic bowls would be lovely, and start adding up the prices in my head. To the left of the bowls, my boyfriend has decided he has found the greatest blow-up photo of the Hudson River of all time. He asked me about seven questions in a row, his eyes wild with excitement.

“JUST WAIT A MINUTE, GOD,” I snap.

His face falls. “Fine,” he says pointedly, “I’ll be outside.” He walks out in a huff.

I leave the bowls and find him outside the shop pouting. I apologize for snapping.

“You should be nice to me,” he says.

“I know. I’m sorry. I was doing math and holding heavy bowls and you were distracting me.”

He pouts. “You’ve got to be nice.”

The Lesson: Wow. I guess I can be pretty bitchy to my boyfriend, who never seems to need as much attention than I do. When he does, I should probably be sweet to him. He’s pretty adorable when he’s jumping around like a happy puppy.

May 4, 2011: I come home from work and spend the evening on the couch alternating between work and my DVR. My boyfriend’s not responding to text messages, which means he is probably dead in a ditch somewhere. By 11pm, I start calling him frantically. No response. At 12am, my phone rings.

“Hi whattss up,” he slurs. “Howerr youush. Imma coming home to yoouosh.”

He’s home, but it takes him about five minutes to get in the door—he can’t seem to get the key inside the lock. When he finally enters triumphantly, he falls into the hallway. I make him a cheese sandwich, pour him a glass of water, and watch him eat it. When I’m sure he’s okay, I go to sleep angry.

The next morning he’s rubbing my back. I ignore him for a while. He keeps trying to put his arms around me, but I shrug him off.

I finally give. “You can’t drink that much. You’re come home like an idiot and you never call and you make me worry and I hate it.”

“I’m sorry. The office manager bought tequila shots and I didn’t eat dinner and….” he ducks his head down. “I promise to call next time. I love you?”

Sigh. “I love you, too. But you have to call! And you have to be nice.”

The Lesson: My boyfriend should text me when he’s going to be very late so I don’t panic. It’s that easy. And I should also stop holding him to such a high standard. Lord knows I come home pretty sloshed some days.

April 23, 2011: The kitchen is disgusting and there are crumbs collecting under the couch. I don’t want to clean. We agreed to split the chores! I cook and do the dishes. He has to clean up the kitchen and bathroom every other week, vacuum once every other week, and occasionally mop. Vacuuming wouldn’t be fair. Besides, I just cooked him a huge plate of scrambled eggs and home fries.

I cough and gesture at the mess under the couch. He shakes his head. “Don’t,” he says, cutting me off before I can bug him about cleaning. “I just want to watch TV.”

“But that’s part of your deal! And you have to clean! I cook! It’s filthy!” Hot, frustrated tears slide down my cheeks. “And you put off cleaning last weekend and the weekend before that! I never stop cooking for you! It’s not fair! It’s not fair to me!”

He crosses his arms. “It’s 11am on a Saturday morning. You always do this! You always nag me to clean and then piss me off and then ruin the entire weekend! Leave me alone.”

I run into the bedroom and slam the door, but I don’t lock it. There’s nowhere else to go in our five-hundred square foot apartment. He lets himself in and sits on the end of the bed.

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I reply. I don’t really mean it.

“You have to stop nagging me. I’ll get to it eventually. And I will be nicer.”

He never ends up cleaning that weekend. I swallow most of my anger with a glass or three of wine. At least he knows he wasn’t nice.

The Lesson: My boyfriend clearly hates cleaning and I need to figure out a better way of dividing up the chores. He needs to pick up some roommate slack. He is a shitty roommate sometimes. He should clean. Maybe I’m giving in too easily. We should probably have more sex.

Okay, I’m going to be honest. I logged the last five fights, but one was about texting and the other was about vacuuming.

Lord, we’re boring and predictable. Which is to say: if these are the arguments I have over and over again with my man, they’re not too bad. There’s no jealousy, no delusions, no weird fetishes. I just need to strap a GPS on his ankle and buy a Roomba.

And remember to be nice. You’ve got to be nice.

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  • Dove

    You guys sound like you are pretty decent to each other, which is really nice, and rare. So many couples have awful lopsided fights where one person refuses to talk about it so the other is just constantly miserable. I have gotten to the point where I dont’ talk to most of my girlfriends about their fights. Either stand up for yourself, or shut up. I can’t listen to one more “He came home drunk and yelled at me for bringing it up so I just cried and slept on the couch, then the next day he made some extra eggs for me when he made them for himself so I guess we’re over it” story.

    My fights with my husband all result from basically the same two origins: he’s dense or I’m overly sensitive. We’ve both gotten better, but haven’t stopped fighting. We never fight dirty (name-calling, past-dredging) though, so usually things don’t get too heated.

    • Brandy Alexander

      Thanks — I think we are pretty good to each other. At least we try. Watching an unhappy (unequal) company is depressing. You can’t really help, you just have to be thankful that your own relationship is balanced.

      I know I’m generalizing, but your point “he’s dense or I’m overly sensitive” seems like that is a common theme. I am hyper-sensitive and my boyfriend isn’t dumb, but sometimes he’s rather thick about acknowledging my feelings. I stopped hinting with him and just tell him flat out what I need from him. It saves us a lot of hurt feelings!

    • Dove

      We are definitely blunt with each other, and it almost always helps either avoid or expedite a fight. If I’m mad and he tells me I’m being over sensitive it truly does make me take a deep breath and think, and if I tell him he’s being dense (also usually about feelings/social norms) he reconsiders and tones it down or apologizes.

  • Allison

    I’m pretty sure the fact that we live in a 500 sq ft apartment helps put a quick end to a large majority of our fights. When there’s nowhere to go stew in your anger, you’re forced to get over it enough to make up pretty quickly.

    And boys really are crappy at cleaning up apartments. Mine will do a really great job once a week and let it all sit for the rest. I don’t want to do it all myself, so I’ve kindof just adapted to it by doing the same thing, but the mess drives me crazy.

  • chloe

    About the last fight……….research has shown that partners who help out with hosehold chores have more and better sex than those who don’t.
    link to news story:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704500604574485351638147312.html