Relationship Memes and IKEA Furniture

I’ve seen this (or something super similar…maybe something about ‘siblings’ thrown in or a different background photo or the word ‘obviously’ before ‘meant to be…’) a whole bunch of times in the 12ish years I’ve spent on some kind of social media…

memes

The implication that fighting is ‘healthy’ or necessary for a close relationship is so ubiquitous that I went to IKEA with my son on Saturday to pick up some furniture (our first purchase from IKEA…I know, right?), and he said this to me, chuckling, but also, genuinely concerned:

“Mom, I saw on YouTube that you’re not supposed to put IKEA things together with your husband or wife. Like…that’s asking for a fight to happen.”

He was concerned because J and I don’t fight.
We just don’t.
And The Boy did not want us to start fighting over the IKEA furniture. (We didn’t. We got both pieces together without any raised voices or broken pieces or anything. In fact, we actually smiled and laughed a lot while we were putting it together).
I’m not saying J and I have never disagreed…we have. I’m not saying we never get grumpy or mopey or moody or angry…we do. Hell, I get anxious *all the time.* And sometimes we annoy each other and do things that aren’t pleasing to each other. I mean…we’re both human.
But we don’t ‘fight like a married couple,’ unless I’m misinterpreting the underlying meaning of that phrase, and ‘fight like a married couple’ means, ‘we don’t fight at all, really.’

I think it’s the word ‘fight’ that riles me up here. Even if ‘fight’ is supposed to mean ‘ethical, respectful argument,’ without calling each other names or raised voices, it still implies an adversarial relationship, and I’ve never liked those. I don’t like confrontation. And I wouldn’t feel like I wanted to marry or even hang out regularly with someone who wanted to ‘fight’ me…not even physically. I’ve had ‘friends’ who enjoyed baiting me into debates regularly, and that bums me out. It’s exhausting, honestly, and it hurt my feelings that they seemed to get pleasure out of painting me into corners until I had no choice but to debate them…something they KNEW unequivocally that I didn’t want to do. My discomfort brought them clear joy. People who like being ‘devil’s advocate’ and starting arguments wherever they can make me anxious, and I don’t like operating even occasionally in bad faith like that. I don’t like picking fights and I don’t like having them picked with me. By anyone. I like sincerity in communication. And if I sincerely disagree all the time, enough for it to warrant constant debate, I personally feel better not communicating with a person beyond absolute necessity. I wouldn’t want to be friends with that person, much less get romantically involved with them or marry them.

I have that sincerity in communication with J. We have a foundation of trust and deep knowledge of one another that we put a lot of time and effort into building, and we are both naturally quiet, peace-loving and peace-seeking people. Those things allow for honesty and cooperation and forgiveness. The safe, calm environment and relationship I have with J allow me to tell him things that are bothering me, and allow him to tell me things that are bothering him, without either of us getting defensive and adversarial. We can be honest, knowing the other person is going to care and work *with us* to understand our position, and then making whatever the issue is better. In fact, I communicate better with J than I do with virtually every other person I know, because he gives me latitude to communicate in ways that are easy for me to be clear (writing, usually…or quietly and privately) and he’s patient to let me get everything out and getting clarity and certainty before reacting. I try (and hope I succeed) to give him those same graces in return.
I know I can tell him anything, honestly, and it WON’T cause a fight.
With my parents, with former friends, with other relationships I have had (and a few I still have) in my life, no matter how calm and respectfully I presented a problem (‘This hurt me…this made me feel bad…I feel like <…> when you do <…>…’), it was always the catalyst for an argument. And sometimes name calling (I’ve been called a bad mother, an asshole, a bad daughter, a bad friend, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve been called a bitch). And often raised voices (in my family…the louder you talk, the righter you are…or so most of my family members think, anyway). And sometimes threats or hurtful commands (‘You can just leave…’ ‘I don’t want to see/talk to you anymore…’ ‘I’m not inviting you to <event>…’ ‘Maybe we should break up…’). And I would often get passive aggressive statements in return. (‘I’m the most terrible mother in the world, I know…’ ‘I guess you hate me…’)
After a long history of those repeating patterns, it makes me want to stop communicating with those people. I don’t fight with them. I just shut down.

My parents fight a lot. They DO ‘fight like a married couple.’ And it has stressed me out for my whole life. And it bothers J and The Boy too.
I don’t want to judge someone else’s relationship (I know it sounds like I am here…that’s not my intention though). I’ve known couples who bickered a lot who really did seem to love each other and some people clearly do thrive on debate. But J and I aren’t those people (and I don’t think The Boy is either, based on how he reacts to seeing it with other people, and was worried about it happening at home this weekend). I think J and I are still meant to be even though we don’t fight. In fact, I think we’re meant to be BECAUSE we don’t fight.

I’m never going to like the phrase ‘fight like a married couple,’ uttered as though it were a positive goal to shoot for. But I did read another snippet of relationship insight that I like, that’s sort of related (at least it is in my head). I wish I could remember the source (or find a reliable source), but like many things we come across on the internet…it’s shown up in multiple similar formats and is never properly attributed in some trustworthy way, but it goes something like:

“My grandmother (or mother…or grandfather…or uncle…or somebody older and wiser in the poster’s family) told me to remember that when a problem arises in a marriage that it’s you and your spouse together versus the problem; not you versus your spouse about the problem.”

That’s my kinda fighting like a married couple. Fighting together against the problem. We’re on the same side. We’re not adversarial.
I think J and I do that and I think we’re pretty good at it. It’s probably why we can laugh with each other while putting together IKEA furniture.

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