In the last month, we took a two-week trip by car, spent time with the in-laws, and most recently, were snowed in, as a family, for the last eight days. (The “by car” part is important because I back-seat drive. A lot. I even slam my foot on an imaginary brake if I’m feeling like we’re going to slam into the car in front of us. Funny, right? Not really, because it drives him insane.) Add to that the stress and pressures of travel and holidays and the drudgery of returning to the grind in January temperatures.
Then, because you’re me, top it with starting an extremely rigorous 10-week gut healing protocol during which we have to eat like saints, abstain from alcohol and take supplements six times a day…including one that tastes a little bit like mud. (It’s basically a Whole 30, twice, minus the coffee, plus the mud.) And, because I’m a glutton for punishment, why not throw in a significant ramp-up of my communications consulting business.
Naturally, all that might explain the curious absence of blog posts over the last month. But, more importantly, if you mix all that stuff up in this bowl we call marriage you have quite the recipe. A spectacular recipe, actually. For…well…how should I say it? The F word.
Nope. Get your dirty little mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about Fighting. With a capital F.
You know what I mean. It can be so easy to fall into this trap where most every conversation, every interaction, everything is a test, a ticking time bomb or a tortured silence.
There you are, in this horrific paradox where the only lovers’ shorthand you have to rely on anymore is a series of terse drive-by comments, most of which are bossypants instructions rather than eye-to-eye conversation. And when that fails…and you feel unheard, unseen, unloved…you yell. Or maybe you stomp away. Me? I’m a yeller. Sometimes a crier. But not without yelling first.
I feel super fortunate when I say that this is actually not our reality right now. But, on a few chaotic days when we were running a little hot, I was reminded of how when you argue day in and day out, you forget how to shut up and listen, how to look him in the eye, how to show up.
But here’s the thing: To me, fighting, bickering, picking…it’s all nothing more than a bad habit. And if it’s a habit, you can break it. We just have to retrain our brains to pick a different path. A path of peace.
We’ve got an old trick we use. I call it the Fight Diet. (Poor Adrian…I always subject him to my harebrained schemes.)
Trust me, this one works. Even he will tell you that. We’ve been doing it for about ten years, even before kids, but especially after the kids in those early years. And now is the perfect time to take two weeks and spiff up your marital hygiene just in time for Valentine’s Day. If January can be about losing unwanted pounds, then let’s make February about losing unwanted fights.
PROJECT: THE FIGHT DIET
Timeline: Two weeks, beginning on a Sunday.
What You’ll Need
- iPhone or journal
- A 1 hour date on the books for the Sunday after you start (over coffee at home is good neutral territory)
- A willingness to laugh at yourself
- Make a firm agreement that for the entire duration of the diet, you will default to total nonescalation. Every single time either of you are feeling the friction, the fury, the fight…you will completely suppress the outburst, walk away and make a quick note about whatever it is that bugs you. (We do it in the Notes app on our phones.) Basically, if you see/hear/feel something, write something. Literally, stop whatever you are doing, pull out your device and write down whatever it is that is irking you. (Examples: you left your dirty boxers by the shower, you never look at the bank account, you put my chef’s knife in the wrong place, you kept checking your phone during dinner, you ignored the kids for Instagram, you never ask me how my day is, etc.)
- Next, get cozy with each other whenever a situation is defused by writing a note. That’s right. If you can bring yourself to do it, every time you censor yourself and write down your issue, walk up to your partner and plant a big wet one on him, hug him and say, “I love you.” Consider it a way to earn bonus points.
- During week two, commit to going to bed every night: early and together. Whatever happens, happens. You’ll either be better rested or better connected or a combination of both, but we’ve learned this is a crucial step in recalibrating the fight fuse.
- Agree that you’ll come together on the two Sundays and read the lists in their entirety and discuss. (Truth: you won’t be able to do this. Some of them you will be unable to utter. See: Results, below.)
That’s it! Yeah, yeah, it may feel a little stupid at first, but just do it. Trust me. Let him/her see you take the pause and write it down. That’s part of it. Pausing, reflecting, recalibrating.
Picture it: you’re both standing at the sink, he doesn’t rinse his smoothie glass but just sets it down…this totally pisses you off but you don’t say you a word. Instead, you whip out your iPhone and write YOU NEVER RINSE YOUR SMOOTHIE GLASS AND LEAVE IT FOR ME and walk away. But, not without kissing him and saying “I love you” first.
After each week, sit down, get out your notes and talk it over. Here’s what I can promise you:
- You’ll feel ridiculous doing this for two weeks, but it will also feel like a game. A secret game between the two of you.
- If you can remember to say I love you every time you note a perceived transgression, you will be constantly reminded that you that you love this person in spite of his/her faults.
- The practice of going to bed together is something I cannot recommend enough if it’s at all possible. We also started charging our phones on the other side of the room so they are out of arm’s reach.
- When you sit down for the big reveal…what can I say? It’s eye opening. And hilarious. Most of what you have to read out loud will mortify you because it’s just so damn petty. Some of it you won’t even remember what it means and it’ll be like your reading someone else fight diary. And, with any luck, there will also be some gems. Some matters of the heart that warrant discussion. And, since you’ll be sitting side-by-side on the couch with your coffee…maybe you’ll actually slow down enough to talk some things through. Maybe you’ll come up with a plan. Maybe you’ll hear the other person out for once. Or agree to disagree. But at least you’ll take a step toward counterbalancing all that friction with some communication and intimacy.
Above all, you’ll be well on your way toward breaking the habit. Ok, so HuffPo said that it takes 66 days to change a habit, But chances are, the things that bug you over a two week period are the same things that bug you day in and day out over months or even years. If you can nip them in the bud with a Fight Diet, you can spend the other 42 days making out by the sink instead of fuming over the smoothie glass. Because, who doesn’t love making out?