Heidi and I fight sometimes...
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but Heidi and I fight. It never comes to blows physically, but we can throw some pretty good psychological sucker punches.
Sometimes she starts it, sometimes I do. Often times, it takes more boldness to start a fight because you know that someone has to stir up the stink that is as obvious as a 2 year old playing hide and seek. Both of us know something smells, but it's crazy how long you can hold your breath either hoping it will go away or that the other person will break the silence. Like getting into cold water, sometimes it's easier if a person just pushes you in rather than trying to methodically wade in. But it doesn't matter who cracks open the door of conversation, usually defensiveness is the first host to greet you.
Typically it takes about a half an hour to an hour to banter back and forth wading through the quagmire of defensive dodges and offensive opinions. This is an hour that feels like you wished you hadn't "gone there". There doesn't appear to be any light in this tunnel and both sides feel completely justified in their beliefs and behaviors. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong in this section of the swamp, because you can't listen for truth when you're so busy trying to tell your version of it. The best that you can hope for is that when the murky water settles a bit that there will be a faint remembrance of something that was said "way back when" in the beginning of the conversation. This is the part of the fight where you're thinking some pretty dark thoughts like: "She doesn't know me at all." "He doesn't love me and he never will." "I can't stand the sight of her right now." "I wish I never married this insensitive loser." "I think my life would be better off without him/her." "I want a divorce."
With every minute gone by, you are screening things you're saying even though what is actually coming out of your mouth is offensive enough to evoke thoughts of divorce. But the real dirty stuff, the real dark and destructive stuff is still latent under your tongue. You wonder if this might be the time to "go there", to really "get real". You have a couple things that you've fantasized about saying given the right opportunity, but you fear that if you say them out loud they will be misinterpreted and used against you to validate the other person's argument.
Remember, in this stage of the fight, everything you say or do will be used "against" you in the court of law, because grace has been locked in the basement storage closet. The letter of the law is ruling the court room now. You are being cross-examined and cross-examining to substantiate your case. It's amazing how vicious things get when you're both defending your case in the court of law. The legalism is palpable.
Things are being said that you can't take back, and what becomes known cannot become unknown. There's no going back to old places of innocence. But here's the thing...that is exactly why you're getting into the fight.
To expose poisonous musings of naiveté that are keeping you from deeper intimacy. It's better to know what the other person is thinking and to deal with the weight of reality than to be shielded from reality/truth. If they are blind, it does no good to keep telling them that they have 20/20 vision. If they are broken, it doesn't no good telling them that they are doing just fine. If you are a mess, it doesn't no good for the other person to buffer you from reality because they are intimidated by your reactions of anger or shut down, passivity or aggression. At some point, you have to call a spade a spade and deal with the consequences.
This might put you in divorce court or it might put you in a counselor's office. You might want a separation for a while, you might want to talk to your pastor. You may even feel like you've passed the point of no return. It might make things worse before it makes things better is what I'm trying to say. What I've found is that the "point of no return" and the "turning point" are very close to the same place in a relational conversation. You can't brush up against one without brushing up against the other. But it is just this kind of desperation that leads to transformation.
Well, after the first portion of the fight begins to die down (you'll notice because there are longer stretches of silence in between outbursts), you come to a part of the conversation that is less charged and more civil. It is here that truth has a chance to land in the human heart. It's still tender, but it's accessible. You might here things like, "I know that I struggle with that..." or "I already know what you've told me..." or "I'm sorry that I'm such a burden to be around, but..." or "I feel like no matter how much I change, it's never enough..." It is important to note that nobody is taking blame per say, they are simply beginning to crack open to the idea that their life isn't an impregnable fortress of perfection. They are lobbing out signals to see if you will tread lighter in the forthcoming moments of conversation. If they sense you are still a bull in a China shop, they will recoil and redouble their efforts to defend themselves to the death. What you have to say or not say at this point really won't matter no matter how profound and insightful it may be. It will not only fall upon "deaf ears", worse yet, they will be "dead ears".
This is the point in the conversation where each party is feeling out whether the other person senses their own contribution to the tension. Without apologizing they are admitting a twinge of weakness, without saying sorry they are realizing that they aren't perfect and never have been. When you get to this point in the conversation, you must follow suit by admitting your own issues along the way. It is always hardest to be the first one to go to this place of vulnerability, because the second one who responds has the luxury of knowing that you are desiring peace. They are beginning the "peace treaty".
The second party, the responder to the initiator of "peace", typically responds with things like: "I know that I haven't always..." or "I have my faults as well and I know they..." or "I realize that I don't see everything clearly all the time either..." or "Sometimes I get selfish as well..." These responses start to set up Stage #3 in the fight.
Stage #1 - Fight or Flight
Stage #2 - Flight or Face
Stage #3 - Face or Fuse
When you begin to face the issues at hand, transformation begins. The temptation to fight or flight without the third open of facing has killed many a couple along the way. Facing each other takes courage. It takes the ability to look pain in the eye without running. It takes trust in truth. If you don't trust the truth, you will always run, making up you own version of truth as you go. This will allow you to survive another day, but you will never live, you will never be free. When you face your fight and dig deep to look beyond the puss to the poison, the source instead of the symptoms, you will find a new intimacy.
But there is still another huge divide that must be crossed. It is one of the hardest chasms to bridge. It is the stalemate before the apology. It has always been intriguing to me that the word used to describe "neutralization" in the game of chess is called "stalemate". This is the only kind of mate you will be until you learn to apologize. And someone has to take it from "generic" and "general" weakness-recognition in stage #2 to "specific" and "personal" apology-recognition in stage #3. Someone has to have the humility to say "I'm sorry, will you forgive me." If the conversation doesn't go to that place. You do not have fusion, you have fake-fusion which is confusion. It makes the next conversation even more vitriolic and viral, because you think you've repented only to find out you haven't, you just put lipstick on a pig.
Last night, Heidi and I worked through something akin to this process for probably the thousandth time. And like every other time, I wanted to end love to her in the first hour, suspend love to her in the second hour, and make love to her in the third. This is where we get the famous "make-up sex" that everyone talks about. But it's not gotten without a fight. And your relationship won't last without good fights along the way. Avoidance won't cut it. Evasive language in conversation won't do. Fight or Flight mechanisms are impotent to take care of the issues. You must face the issues and face each other, with honesty and humility.
I'm not talking about dirty fighting, I'm talking about clean fighting.
Only then will you fuse. And man is fusion fun.