I have noticed that with age, comes a sense of clarity and patience. Who knew? You can actually “grow up” when you grow up. This point became very clear to me a few days ago when I was having an argument with my boyfriend. One of the things I remember doing a lot when I was in my 20s and early 30s in an argument, was, to be honest…a lot of screaming. I wanted to be the loud, agressive person in the conversation. Because everyone knows, the louder you are, the easier it will be to get your point across.
I also had a nasty habit of saying hurtful things. I even took pride in it. My ex-husband pointed this fact out to me one evening when we were fighting. “Just because you have a degree in Rhetoric, doesn’t mean you can just win the argument all the time!”, he said. But in my head, that’s exactly what I thought. I took classes in college about oration and arguments, and would use that knowledge to my advantage. And applying “Pathos”, I knew exactly what to say, that would cross the line, silence my partner and make my point, thus causing me to “win” the argument.
Fast forward to more than 10 years later. A marriage and several long term relationships later and I noticed one huge difference, I fight like a grown up. What does that mean? Early in our dating lives, the only fights we have experience in, are those related to our youth and adolescence. There’s a lot of name calling, maybe some throwing, some screaming and talking with no point of accuracy but more so to hear who can be the loudest. Whether we were fighting with our siblings, our parents or friends, these were the only real arguments we had that we drew experience from when it came to fighting when we started dating. But then one magical day, you grow up. Or at least, I hope you do.
And what you realize is profound. A fight between a couple should never be about who will win. It shouldn’t be who can say the most hurtful thing or whos blow is the lowest. It shouldn’t be about pulling up past pain and hurt, to make a point in the present. To fight fair, and I think, to fight smart boils down to one word. Ready?
Now I understand that sometimes this tactic can scare men. They have programmed in their relationship DNA, that when a woman is silent, she is at her most dangerous. And to be completely honest, you’re right. However, there is a way to be silent and engaging in an argument that won’t elicit fear in your partner. A few days ago, this point struck me while in mid-argument. My boyfriend was trying to make a point, which my immediate thought was “Well, that’s dumb, and I know I’m right.” But rather than act on that impulse, I took a moment and sat in silence. I remember looking at him and thinking “Don’t talk, just listen.”
For one, silence gives you the chance to listen actively. Take a moment to register and process what your partner is saying. It also prevents you from blurting out your first initial thought, which in some cases, can be hurtful. Silence also affords you time. Time to think about their point, think about your point, and evaluate if the argument is really worth the energy. I’m not going to lie, this is hard. It’s like some Jedi level mind trickery of the dating world. Especially for a black woman. We can’t just sit back and be quiet. But I will say, that the older I have become, the more I have sat in the moment of silence to listen, really listen. And I have been amazed at the results. Fewer fights, laughter in the middle of an argument and mostly importantly, fewer hurt feelings.
So the next time you find yourself in an argument with your partner, and you KNOW your points are valid, take a moment to surrender to the silence. Really listen to what they have to say, and before reacting, pause. Remember that the way you are feeling in the moment is just temporary, and you have just as much power as your partner, to change the outcome.