I’ve always considered fighting to be a really important part of a relationship. Almost as important as how we f**k. Hear me out on this one. Just like screwing, I’ve always thought that there needed to be a balance, a compatibility in the way my dude and I verbally sparred. If we fought the same — either by withdrawing emotionally or screaming obscenities or sobbing tears of rage — our disagreements would never, ever end. I’m a weeper and, at times, an emotional mess. Often the only thing that can pull me out of the sinkhole is the soothing voice and manner of someone — a man, in this case — taking charge and putting an end to a fight as swiftly as it began. It’s the one area of my life where sometimes I feel like I need a little “saving.”I’m pretty together in my daily life. I’ve financially supported myself for years; I have a great but demanding job, the pressures of which rarely phase me. I don’t usually lose my cool, especially after some maturing in the last few years. However, as I have admitted, I once lost it entirely, hitting my ex during a fight. He responded in the exact way I described above — he wrapped his arms around me and forced me to calm down. I wasn’t able to fly any more off the handle because of his response — had he reacted in any other way, either by raging back at me or turning on his heel and coldly walking away, I don’t know what I would have done. At the time, I needed him to bring me back down to earth.
I’ve never hit anyone again, of course, though I can’t say I haven’t been tempted. The point is I’ve learned how to control my anger, at least so that I don’t respond physically. What I haven’t learned, however, is that only I should and can bring myself back down to earth — that relying on someone else’s response, on their ability to control their own emotions in fight so they can focus on mine, is terribly unfair and unhealthy.
I’ve noticed this desire for someone else to take charge of an out-on-control situation is a part of how I relate with my family sometimes. Remember that fight on Thanksgiving, when I tore my brother a new a**hole for defending Roman Polanski? Looking back, as things got more and more heated, I wanted desperately for my mom to step in and do or say something to complete diffuse the situation. She didn’t — in truth, she and I are cut from the same cloth, emotionally — and neither did my brother and before we knew was happening, World War III had broken out before we’d even dished out the mashed potatoes.
From this, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany lately about personal responsibility and learning what you can and can’t control in a relationship. Ultimately you can’t make anyone do anything; in this case, I can’t force or expect every dude I date to calm me down when we are fighting about something. I can’t force or expect my mom to suddenly be something she’s not (i.e., the calm, rational one during a family fight during a holiday dinner), especially at age 60. But I can change how I respond to others.
So maybe how a couple fights isn’t so important or essential to a relationship’s survival. Expecting someone else to change who they are so they’re more compatible with your neurosis is kind of self-absorbed, not to mention a complete distraction from the larger issue, which I can control — how I respond to others when the going gets tough.