Dear Captain Awkward (And Awkwardeers),
I’ve been in a fantastic relationship with my partner for a few years now. He’s incredibly supportive of my mental health, and
Not an effective fighting strategy.
complements my personality perfectly. However, and this may seem a silly concern, I’m worried about the fact that we never argue. Basically, I’m concerned that this might mean that we aren’t communicating well enough.
We have had disagreements, but usually that happens when I say something that’s concerning me and he agrees with whatever I’m saying. It’s not really an argument because he quickly turns around to my way of thinking. Or, less often, he would air an issue and I would see it as reasonable and agree to help fix it. And for a while, this was great! I felt that our relationship must be going amazingly because we never argue!
But the thing is, I’m now sort of scared about what will happen if we ever do fight. Because when we haven’t even really had any of the little arguments, who knows what will happen if we end up in a big argument? Because surely it can’t always happen that we just agree with the other person’s opinion. What about when we have to start making big decisions like whose job dictates which city we live in? Whether we have kids?
And I’ve noticed that I’ve started avoiding conflict because it’s got to a point where I’m scared of The Fight. The Fight seems to me to be this big inevitable thing looming that sooner or later we both have to deal with… and I don’t know how I’ll handle The Fight. So sometimes, I don’t mention things that upset me because I don’t want to lead to a fight. And that means I’m kind of bottling up grievances which I know full well isn’t healthy. We have an amazing relationship, but I’ve always thought that good relationships were about dealing with the bad as well as the good, and what if it takes us years to realise that we can’t handle the bad?
It’s not like everything’s been sunshine and roses. As I mentioned earlier, he’s been great with my mental health, but that means that he does the majority of the housework, as well as working, and although I’m working hard to be able to contribute more, it’s something that definitely hangs over me. I think the guilt from knowing that he basically just cares for me a lot of the time also means that I’ve stopped talking about things he does that sometimes upsets me, because I feel like I don’t deserve to be unhappy with anything he does when he’s great and supportive and puts so much time, and effort, into making our home a safe place for me. As well as trying to avoid The Fight. And I feel like, hey, I’ll have forgotten the bad thing he said tomorrow, so why argue about it now? It’s probably just me being over sensitive anyway, right? But what actually happens is that it still hurts tomorrow, just feels too late for me to bring it up, so just gets added to the pile of Things That Hurt Me.
(Note: the things he says aren’t generally actually nasty things but just things that are badly worded and hurt my feelings. For example: “you’re looking beautiful today! I think that dress makes you look thin” and like I’m certain he means well but I’d rather be able to accept the fact that I’m not thin rather than feel like his image of me on beautiful rests on his image of me as thin, y’know?)
Basically, how can I call him out on things that make me sad at the time? I kind of need a method to use when usually I’d just lose my nerve and stay quiet because I’m now kind of really fearing conflict.
And what if The Fight does happen and we end up having a big argument, either now or in the future? How will I be able to convince myself that this isn’t the end of the world and that our relationship has the potential to survive that, when so far it’s been built on a foundation of mostly harmony and agreement? I feel like we’ve been constructed by all our friends as The Couple Who Never Fight, The Perfect Couple, and I’m scared of realising that we’re not.
Hi there, Conflict Avoidant. Commander Logic here.
I’m going to tackle your last worry first: No one in the history of the earth has been The Perfect Couple. Leave that mountain unclimbed. No one has to be perfect, not for their friends, not for their partners, not for themselves. “The Couple Who Never Fight” can just mean “Who Never Fight In Public.” We can all strive to be that couple, and I’m going to wager that most couples are that couple; fighting in public is a whole other kettle of fish.
You’re also feeling a lot of guilt about being cared for. I don’t know if it helps, but that is a completely normal feeling. Mr. Logic just had knee surgery and for the past three weeks, 90% of all household & baby things have been on my plate in addition to working. He’d try to help more, and I’d order him back to his couch so that he wouldn’t injure his OTHER knee. And it’s ok. Because you know what? 9 months ago I was so enormously pregnant that he had to tie my shoes for me. I had debilitating pelvic girdle pain and couldn’t walk very well. Then I had a baby come out of me and was couchbound again. Whenever I got antsy about all the work he was doing for me, he would tell me that he knew I would do it for him. When he’s gotten antsy and guilty lately, I’ve reminded him of the same thing. “Would you do it for me? Yeah? Then let me do it for you.” I hope you never have a chance to repay all your partner’s care for you, but that’s love.
Another part of love is telling the other person when they can help you better, which from your examples it sounds like you’re doing already. But just as a show of support, a story from the House of Logic just yesterday:
Pudding with flair
Mr. Logic’s family has a tradition of getting pudding when you’ve been in surgery. So I purchased chocolate and pistachio pudding to make parfaits, because why not get fancy for $0.70 a box? Two nights ago I made parfaits. Last night, I was going to make them again, and Mr. Logic said, “Actually, can you just put them side-by-side? I like being able to control the flavors better.” So I made his side-by-side pistachio and chocolate and parfaited mine. Was that a fight? No harm, no foul, just delicious pudding.
I also have a bad habit of leaving clothes strewn about the bedroom, which was a hazard for Mr. Logic when he was on crutches. He said so to me, and I cleared it up (and a couple more times when I forgot). Was that a fight?
But you and your partner don’t fight at all, and that is wigging you out. So I want you to think about what a fight is, versus a disagreement or a need. To me, a FIGHT is insulting and yelling and cursing and slammed doors. It’s rage and wanting to hurt feelings and sticking metaphorical pins in your loved one’s soft places.
Mr. Logic and I have never fought. THAT DOES NOT MEAN:
1 – We will never fight
2 – We never disagree
3 – Life is unicorns and rainbows and rainbow-shitting unicorns
At this moment in my life, the very idea of wanting to hurt Mr. Logic with words is just bizarre to me, like “don’t you throw him out the window on a regular basis? EVERYONE defenestrates the person they love!” levels of bizarre. I’m pretty hard pressed to think of something he would do that would make me mad enough to try – either the yelling or the window murder. It’s just not how we roll. Some day we might find the subject that we legitimately have it out about, but we haven’t found it yet.
We do disagree, though. And we argue.
Same fight every week. Aliens? Not Aliens? JUST KISS ALREADY.
Actually, we try to argue on a weekly basis. Well, we discuss things on a weekly basis, and sometimes it turns into an argument, but that’s okay because we’ve created a space for arguing. Because otherwise, we would fall prey to Geek Relationship Fallacy #2: Disagreements Mean We Have to Break Up. Before I get to how we figured that out, I want to go back to the days in our relationship BEFORE we made our weekly meetings. Then, I was always nervous about when to bring up something that was bothering me. Should I wait until dinner? After dinner? What if I’m too tired? What if he’s crabby? If it was a chore that wasn’t getting done, was I allowed to ask him about it? Or was that nagging? Who wants to be a nag? UGH!
Usually over brunch on the weekend, we’d have a conversation like this:
Me: Sooooo…. I’ve been thinking about something, probably too much.
Him: Yeah? What?
Me: [explains the thing]
Him: Ok. That’s not a big deal. How about we [do X about thing].
Me: Great! That’s such a relief.
Him: Really? Huh.
And stuff got resolved (because Geek Fallacies are FALLACIES), but with a lot of stress on my end and a lot of “bzuh?” on Mr. Logic’s. After a while, I got much better about saying things in the moment, but that was based first on positive assertions, and then building on that to being direct.
Me: Thank you so much for making dinner! It was awesome!
Him: Of course!
Me: I’m so glad you did the dishes, I just could NOT with dishes today.
Him: Yeah, you seemed pretty tired.
Him: Thank you for driving today.
Me: Sure. I know you hate city traffic.
Me: Can you change the cat litter? It’s getting seriously funky.
Him: On it.
Me: Thank you!
Me: I threw in your workout clothes with the towels, is that ok?
Him: Oh, great! Thanks! But if you’re the one to change them over, look out for the drip dry shirts?
Me: Will do!
Me: I’m worried about [thing]. Can I just talk about it aloud?
The most competent relationship in Westeros.
We both intentionally developed the practice of thanking the other person whenever they did something. At first it felt like overkill, and Mr. Logic would say stuff like “I don’t feel like you should thank me for doing normal stuff,” but there is just something to having someone notice all the things you’re doing that shores up a relationship. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to tell and show the people you like that you like them, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that you’ve received their messages in return.
But even with all that, it was still hard to get everything sorted. Just because I like Mr. Logic and he likes me doesn’t mean we could read each others minds.
So then in June of this year, I read a great article by Anne at Offbeat Home called “Family Meetings Help My Relationship” – there’s a weekly meeting calendar attachment with that article that I highly recommend. The basic idea is to have a weekly (or monthly if that’s your speed) meeting with your partner where you talk about the upcoming week’s events, meal planning, household to-do list, and (particularly relevant here) any percolating thoughts. Mr. Logic and I tend to focus on the events and to-do list, and ignore the meal planning. The Captain and her fella do meal planning and everything else percolates out of that. But what I think is going to be particularly relevant to you is the “Thoughts” section.
Anne’s thoughts tend to be positive:
The final section, the Thoughts section, is where we’ve been writing the relationship stuff. Things that are going great, things that need improvement, mostly it’s just a nice chance to pat ourselves on the back for being super awesome together. Last week’s said “Sex = Rad. Six days in a row!” “Thanks for making my lunches!” “I want more snuggles!” and “You’re my favorite person of all the persons.”
Since we’re now old hat at our positive affirmations, Mr. Logic and I tend to use that space for disagreements and heavy thoughts. Sometimes, there’s nothing going on and we just high-five and move on. Sometimes, like two weeks ago, we crack a bottle of wine and work through a bunch of future-planning stuff. This past week, I used (some of) that time to tell Mr. Logic about this question and ask if it was okay with him for me to open up about how we do disagreements.
The point is: We set aside a time and a place to tell each other what’s bothering us. And it 100% RULES.
We solve things in our bunk.
When you set aside a time each week to talk about that stuff, that means nothing has to be resolved in that exact moment; you can both think about it and come back to it next week. If you’re using the paper planner, you can even put on the planner what you’re going to talk about. But you could also ignore the paper planner entirely and just have a time you call “Our Therapy Session” where you have a gin & tonic (or other relaxant of choice. tea? cocoa?) and talk about stuff for a half hour by the clock.
And I’m going to warn you now, that first meeting is going to be a doozy. Metaphor time! Right now, your relationship is like a couch that you never sweep underneath. You vacuum the top, flip pillows sometimes, it looks great, but underneath you’re brewing dustbunnies the size of dinosaurs. Now, dustbunnies aren’t dangerous, but the first time you sweep under the couch, HOLY DUSTBUNNIES it’s going to be scary! Maybe you’ll only be able to deal with a quarter of your dustbunnies at first, and that’s okay. Once you get in the routine of regular undercouch sweeping, your dustbunnies will be fewer. Never absent (it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, remember), but much more manageable.
So here’s the dialogue I want you to try:
I’m really struggling to bring up emotional stuff with you. Like, even saying this is really difficult for me. Do you feel like it’s hard for us to talk? (pause, listen) I think it would help me a lot if I had a set time each week where we have a conversation about what’s going on with us. What do you think? (pause, listen) OK, how about we have our meetings (date/time/circumstances/ hey it’s kind of hokey but how about this full weekly schedule thing?)? (negotiate, listen) Thank you for listening to me. I love you.
You might cry during this. That’s okay. And if you want to give him the first dustbunny to tackle, I’d give him this one:
“I’m scared of what would happen if we ever FOUGHT. Does that scare you?”
Good luck, and best love,
EDITED TO ADD: There is a lot of great advice going on in the comments – I am but one humble person of the internet, and their experiences might help you more than mine. Tolstoi said that “Happy families are all alike.” That’s a great first line, but not actually true. There are a million ways to be happy and to argue fairly (or even to appear to argue fairly but really be a jerk), and the commenters are telling you a few more of them. If you usually skip the comments, I recommend checking them out just this once.