Friday, September 13, 2013

It's Never about the Yogurt: Peeling back the layers during a fight

What do you and your sweetie fight about?

Money, sex, parenting - the division of labor?  Living together means there’s a lot to knock heads over.  Big, little; it all counts.  But I’ve discovered my husband and I rarely have a fight that’s actually about the topic we’re squabbling over.

Case in point: the yogurt.

This is an old example, but the lesson we learned endures - if we can remember it in the moment, which is always the tricky part.  Many moons ago, my husband was bugged with me because for the trillionth time I bought the wrong flavor of yogurt.  He preferred red - raspberry, and I couldn’t seem to remember it with the other flotsam and jetsam running through my head. 

And it really, really bothered me that he criticized me when I’d been the one to go to the store and drudge through the aisles each week to buy the groceries.  Hubby and I are serial marriage counseling addicts, so during one of our many, many counseling sessions, the therapist looked me square in the eye and said, “It’s never about the yogurt.”

It was the first time I’d learned to really peel back the layers.  And she was right.  We discovered that my love’s real objection was that I hadn’t considered him enough.  I hadn’t bothered to remember his preference.  He felt neglected.  He felt like I didn’t care about him.  (Although in my defense, I find red-raspberry sells out quickly.  I wonder what other relationships are straining under the demand of red-raspberry yogurt?)

So I try to remember that in the midst of a fight.  It’s a lifelong process – learning to mine down to the “root cause” of the issue.  It’s almost always how someone feels – and for some, it just isn’t safe to say out loud how they’re really feeling, and what they need.  So anger becomes the mask of choice.  And in the midst of raised voices and hurt feelings and wounded pride, it's a herculean effort to stop, take a moment, and ask your love what's underneath.  What's this really, really about?

So if it’s not about the “yogurt,” what is it about for you?  Think about that next time - and fight the good fight with grace, compassion grit.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 
 George Bernard Shaw