helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

why arguing is a good thing, sometimes.

I have some odd criteria for partner selection.

One of the things I notice about Richard & I is that we argue well. I know that sounds odd, especially if I say that I'm sure one of the reasons we're still happy together is because we have very compatible arguing styles. People think that's a weird criteria to use.

But real life isn't all sunshine and roses. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes people mess up. Sometimes people even behave badly, on purpose, because they're in a bad mood. Sometimes you get pissed off with work, where you can't throw a tantrum, and it becomes impossible not to take that bad temper home - so you end up having a stupid row with your partner about whose job it was to unload the dishwasher.

Anyway. When you have a row, what happens? Is it over quickly, or does it last hours? Does it turn into a three-hour screaming match, where every previous past transgression gets brought up and rehashed? Does it turn into several days worth of dissatisfaction that never actually gets resolved? Does one person rant and rave while the other refuses to engage, so both end up feeling unsatisfied? I had a boyfriend once who was the master of the sulk. Every time something went wrong - whether it was my fault or not - I'd be trying to argue with him about it so it could get sorted out, while he would be sulking at me and refusing to talk. The time I specifically remember was when I wanted to make pancakes. We had milk, eggs and flour, but I didn't know the right quantities. I think I looked a recipe up on the internet, but it was for American thick pancakes rather than our British thin crêpe-type, and I was too young and inexperienced to realise there was a difference. The pancakes ended up lumpy, the kitchen was a mess, and he threw a sulk over it that lasted 12 hours. I remember crying in fear and frustration that we were apparently splitting up over fecking pancakes, begging him to tell me what was wrong, and generally being made into & behaving like a clingy, paranoid, little girl.

I don't have that with Richard. When we fight about something, the anger and frustration explodes from us in a couple of heated exchanges. Before 5 minutes is up, one or both of us will be crying - and here's the key point - we will instinctively go to comfort each other. Neither of us can stand seeing the other in distress for more than a few minutes. It's as if our long-term feelings for each other override the short-term fact that we're annoyed. Having got the shouting and the crying done, we then start talking and finding ways to solve the problem together. So we argue ridiculously well. Our arguments are really ways of expressing to the other person that some issue has reached the point where it is an Issue, a breaking point. Once the other person knows it's an Issue, they of course want to try to solve it to make their partner happy again.

So we had this huge argument about the fact that cardboard packaging from bits of metal purchased on eBay [1] was half-filling the room I use for teaching students, and it was embarrassing me, and I'd asked him four or five times already to take them to the cardboard recycling place. But after we'd finished shouting, he went downstairs and started collapsing the cardboard to take it out; and after a few minutes had passed and I felt guilty for giving him that huge job to do alone, I went down to help. It took an hour for the two of us working together, and tying up all the collapsed boxes with string was a two-person job anyway. Finally, we were able to decide calmly that it would be more sensible for me to take the cardboard out, because I could put it on the back of the tricycle as one load, whereas trying to transport it in bike panniers would take several trips.

Imagine how unhealthy it would have been if I'd somehow, magically, managed to continue papering over the cracks with my sulking ex for this long. I'd have gone from yelling at him to crying with frustration to begging him to talk to me to promising I wouldn't ever bring up the issue of the cardboard again, to finally collapsing all the boxes and taking them out myself. And he'd never have to address his behaviour (that putting his boxes in my room was a problem), and I'd be going crazy. I'm sure his arguing style would work for some people, in some types of relationships, with different needs - but I now have the self-awareness to know it's not me.

[1] Richard does small-scale metalworking, so he buys other people's offcuts from eBay. So I'm used to being woken up at obnoxious o'clock by the van postman or a courier with a strangely heavy, oddly-shaped parcel that turns out to be just a couple of pieces of metal wrapped in bubble wrap and brown paper. Sometimes he buys machine tools or gauges/meters too, but they are also bits of metal as far as I'm concerned.
Tags: thoughts, wuzzie

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