The first time M and I fought, it was about dirty dishes. At least, I thought it was about dirty dishes. It turns out that it wasn’t.
Really, it was about what he said when I asked him to do the dishes, and how he said it. It was about me feeling ignored and belittled. After that conversation, I didn’t talk to him for three days.
This was at the very beginning of our relationship. We had “officially” started dating just over a month before, and I had never been more in love in my entire life. We talked on the phone almost every day—a huge anomaly for an introvert like me—and quickly became a central part of each others’ lives.
When dishes-gate struck, I was devastated. I didn’t know how I could possibly continue the relationship with someone who treated me that way. At the same time, the throw-away comment had seemed so out of character for the thoughtful man I knew. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I knew if I didn’t say anything I’d be miserable. I knew if I broke up with him I’d be miserable. The only option was to confront him about it, and that seemed incredibly scary. The truth was, I’d never confronted anyone I’d dated before. If things got bad, I left. But things were different with M. I cared enough that I was willing to do what seemed like the most frightening thing in the world—risk his disapproval by standing up for myself—because it was the only way forward.
I was sitting on my bed, trembling and crying as I texted him: We need to talk.
I was too terrified to have the conversation over the phone. We had our first fight over text messages—if you could call it a fight—and I was a wreck the entire time. But by the time the conversation was finished, everything was brought out in the light and we both realized that the entire thing was just a misunderstanding.
Over time, I got better at confronting M about problems. The next time, it only took me a day of withdrawn silence to work up my courage. As months passed, it got down to only a few hours. M was patient with me though all of this. He knew that I wasn’t giving him the silent treatment as punishment—I just needed time to process each situation, figure out why I felt bad, what I needed for it to change, and what I wanted from him to fix the problem. He gave me the time I needed to process my feelings, I gave him the time he needed to explain, and one by one we worked through the hurt feelings to get through the root of the misunderstandings.
M taught me that fighting for your relationship is good. You can’t solve the problems you don’t talk about. But if something is wrong, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Through speaking your truth and facing the conflict head on, you take the first step in creating a better, stronger relationship.
I’ve been thinking about this recently because M and I have had some turbulent times since moving to Singapore. It’s difficult being away from friends and family. We’ve had to rely on each other more than ever before. Sometimes, I feel that insidious old instinct telling me to avoid conflict to keep the peace—but then I remember this powerful essay about the dangers keeping silent. Then I’m glad I’ve learned to fight, because as long as my desire to make things right overrides my tendency toward keeping the peace, I know my love is strong.