I’ve never dealt with anger well.
When I’m upset, I like to be alone. I don’t like to feel that I’m burdening other people with my emotions. I scare myself when I cry, and there are very few people in this world I would ever cry in front of.
I’ve never screamed or yelled at another person. The most I’ve done is raise my voice a couple of decibels above my usual tone, which wasn’t too loud to begin with anyways. Maybe it’s the Asian in me, but when I’m overwhelmed with negative emotion, I always prefer to process those feelings alone first and only with others once the initial wave of negativity has passed.
For better or for worse, when it comes to anger and negative emotions my boyfriend is the exact opposite of me. He wears his feelings loudly and proudly, hiding nothing. He yells when he’s upset, and because he doesn’t like to simmer or let bad feelings linger, he prefers to resolve things in the heat of the moment.
It’s not surprising, then, how difficult fighting with each other is. When conflicts between us arise, I retreat. He advances. I’ve accused him of being overly sensitive. He’s accused me of being emotionally unaware. It’s more important for me to be right. It’s more important for him to feel good about everything again.
I think this is true for most advice but especially true when it comes to relationships: advice is almost always too generic and therefore worthless because it’s only fun to give but really difficult to actually put into practice. Every situation is different, and every emotion is infinitely complex. It’s rather amusing to think a platitude like “be curious about your fights” might ever be useful when you’re actually in the middle of one.
Fights between the two of us are usually resolved with some sort of compromise. But compromise seems to imply that both parties have to give something up. What happens when that “something” you give up feels core to who you are? Can compromise in a relationship be possible without changing fundamental aspects of yourself? People like to say they want to be in a relationship that challenges them to change and grow in ways they never thought possible. Maybe those people have never been in relationships before. Maybe what people really want are relationships that only amplify the parts of themselves they already know are great.
Once I was in a car on the way back from Tahoe with my boyfriend, my brother, and my friend Derrick. The drive was about five hours and to pass the time Derrick challenged us all with a riddle. My boyfriend and I then spent the rest of the car ride — yes, all five hours — fighting about the riddle. The worst part is that neither of us even remember what the fight was about.
In retrospect, that fight is a great example of something both of us should have just let go. If I were a perfect person, then I’d only fight if the fight were about values or morals I’m not able to budge on. I don’t have many of those values; they’re called core values for a reason, after all. I can and should be willing to compromise on everything else. The hard part about relationships most people don’t realize is that relationships are actually all about compromise, because guess what: the chances that there exists another person in the world who perfectly fulfills every single one of your criteria, who never expresses any desires or beliefs that are in conflict with yours, and who you happen to meet (out of the 7 billion people other people in this world!) at just the right time for a relationship to start are…you guessed it, zero.
It’s been three years since we started dating and we’re still learning how to compromise. For now, I remind myself that every fight between the two of us is an active choice. I expect we’ll be learning for awhile.
A few weeks ago, my friend Patricia sent this quote to me and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. It concludes these thoughts much better than I could ever hope to:
“People said ‘treat your lovers like friends and your friends like lovers.’ we have a lot more expectations of lovers…and sometimes we forget to have fun and just really enjoy the time we have together. we can be really harsh toward lovers, perhaps because we feel so vulnerable. that’s where we need to be better friends to our lovers. with friends we’re more likely to cut them some slack, to let things be a little more fluid. no big deal if they’re late, or miss a hang-out once in a while, for example.”