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Rules of engagement

Picture: Pexels
Picture: Pexels

I was listening to a popular radio station and they asked whether fighting, was healthy or unhealthy in a relationship?

The answers varied with one man saying that you have to fight to keep the passion alive, but most said it was unhealthy when it was a daily occurrence. More than one mentioned make up sex, as if this was a reason to fight!

I’d like to start with the question – what is fighting? I grew up in a house where my parents were constantly arguing. Not just bickering but full on war with shouting and occasionally something being thrown. I don’t remember there being any other physical violence but the verbal abuse was significant. I promised myself that fighting would never be a part of my relationships.

There are degrees of fighting, from bickering to verbal abuse and we can argue whether verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse – They both leave scars and I must stress that both are completely unacceptable. Gender based violence is at an all time high and I can’t see it abating any time soon.

My best answer from the radio show was if you cry every day you have to ask yourself whether you are married to a person or an onion?

Despite promising myself I wouldn’t be my parents, my first husband and I bickered constantly. At first it was what I thought to be harmless and then as the years and the irritation levels increased, we started taking cheap shots. Eventually we had no qualms about humiliating each other in front of other people. Needless to say, the relationship went from bad to worse and we got divorced. It wasn’t pretty.

My second husband and I never fought in public, in fact we barely fought at all. It came as a surprise to everyone who knew us, when we too got divorced. It would seem then that a healthy relationship needs a bit of both. I wouldn’t say you need to fight but if you disagree, it should be voiced rather than percolated.

I believe there should be rules of engagement when couples fight. You should not be belittling or trying to humiliate your partner, even in gest. Once those words come out of your mouth, there is no going back, and no amount of apologising is going to fix it. It’s like breaking a plate, sticking it back together again and expecting it to look and feel like it did before the break, even if you say sorry.

I can get vicious when I’m upset or feel like my back is against the wall. My partner and I have come up with a system to put the brakes on. We use safe words.

The use of safe words comes from the Bondage Community for safe play. We have adapted it. We use the traffic light. Granted we never call green because green means I’m happy and comfortable.

Orange means you are very close to crossing the line so maybe we should both take a time out and if either of us call RED, the argument is over immediately – you don’t even get to finish the sentence.

Once everyone has calmed down, we revisit the issue and try to resolve it. We have come to a compromise on the one thing we could actually fight about – how to raise and discipline our respective children. Our solution is my children are mine and his are his, with no interference allowed.

Another source of irritation is that my partner can never complete a task. He always leaves the last 10%. It drives me mad. I mean how hard would it be to pack the tools away after using them?

I get him back by confronting him when he is in the bath, naked with no-where to escape to! He is passive aggressive for half the day. We’ve both decided it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise fight free relationship.

Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. It is frightening how quickly you can flip it and with constant fighting you won’t even notice the flip until it’s too late.

I know couples who have been together and have bickered for 30 years. It’s embarrassing for everyone around them and for some reason they cannot stop. I have been wondering, for these 30 years, how long it will last?

I once asked him what the story is, he didn’t even realise it was happening. It had become as natural as breathing. I don’t have the stomach for it and would have to put a stop to it one way or the other.

I have seen women who stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Many times it’s because they feel financially trapped with nowhere to go. If you are one of these women or men, there are places that will help, you don’t have to stay. Love should not hurt.

I’ve never had great make-up sex. I think its because fighting is very distressing for me whereas for others it is a sign of affection or passion. I don’t understand that sentiment and I have to wonder whether its dysfunctional? If it’s all you know then I suppose its normal, but I don’t think it’s healthy.

I would be asking what there is to constantly fight about? What are the triggers, and can the issues be resolved in a more sustainable and peaceful way?

If you are constantly at each other’s throats, what are you teaching your children about conflict and respect? So much energy must be spent on trying to defend yourself that you have very little left for anything else.

I read recently that a woman shouts because she wants to be heard and a man shouts because he wants to be obeyed. That made my blood run a bit colder.

I’d love to hear your take – you can comment on the column or email me [email protected]

I leave you with this – what you don’t change, you choose. Choose wisely!

Written by Sharon Gordon

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