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What we fight about when we fight about love...

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To recap your FAQ:

Right, so, do I/we put up with each other because we feel some commitment/connection/love for the other person, or because we are just stubborn perfectionists and giving up/walking away/ generally losing the relationship battle isn't in our nature?

Is there a way I can differentiate from what I'm committing to out of love (assuming I feel it), and what I do out of habit/personality? I'm trying to figure out if I'm fighting this losing battle because I care about her/us, or because I desperately don't want to lose, or
because I'm afraid I won't find anyone better. If it matters, this is the longest, most intimate relationship I've ever had (almost a year) and I've never fought with anyone in my life as much as I fight with her.


All right. Strangely enough, if you fight often enough Love will develop, even if you weren't intending it to and had originally planned to simply be a Perfectionistic Pain in the Ass With a Girlfriend. So accidentally or not, good idea or terrible mistake, you are fighting at least partly due to the love/commitment/connection accidental bonding and Dangerous Exchange of Chemicals Factor.

This just happens, and it happens physiologically. It may not feel like love at all. But when it goes away there will often be a withdrawal period, followed by mourning, as your body wistfully and nostalgically longs for the Good Old Days when you used to feel like throwing small kitchen appliances at the person you were attached to. This is not what the Hallmark cards advertise. But it is real. The worse it is, the harder it is to quit.

And this is not just because you want to win, although of course you do. It just has to do with the nature of how the body handles distress, and conflict is distressing. It goes like this, simply and predictably. Step 1: Fight. Step 2: Bad chemicals. Step 3: Physiological distress signals. Step 4: Compensating Chemicals. Step 5: Some relief from bad chemicals. Step 6: Repeat As Needed. Step 7: Addiction to Compensating Chemicals.

It may be slight, but your body will get a bump or a 'high' from a fight, because the Compensating Chemicals function as a physiological reward. Some people get a really big high from fighting and hence get terrifically addicted. Going cold turkey from this kind of an addiction is both necessary and awful, and sometimes leads to stalking and other Terrifying Behaviors Indicative of Addiction. So we need to hope that you are not Very Addicted to Fighting, which will be easy to hope because probably you're not, given the tone of your email.

The fact that Love is caused by fighting and distress and Compensating Chemicals and so on does not sound very idealistic or heart-warming really. But the Compensating Chemicals factor alone does not degrade the quality of love; it's simply helpful in survival. People scrape on each other's nerves because they are designed to be different from one another, but they need each other anyway. Conflict is inevitable in human associations of any kind. It was just thoughtful and prudent of evolution to use this handy and ubiquitous feature of human life to sneak in Love chemicals as well as You Are Seriously Getting on My Nerves Chemicals so that we'd all be able to stand each other and even help each other in spite of our various irritating behaviors.

And, by the way, I don't mean to state categorically that the only possible factor in helping love bloom like a beautiful rose in the garden of life is fighting about stupid shit. There are lots of other things, including that perennial favorite, Shared Laughter. Shared Laughter works on the same principle actually. Laughter is caused by exposure to stress (really it is), and the Compensating Chemicals relieve the stress through Hearty Ho Ho Ho-ing that expels the stress chemicals that had just bubbled up like lava in a volcano about to explode, but instead of exploding in anger, you explode in laughter and then the Compensating Chemicals rush in to relax you. And if you reapeatedly engage in Hearty Ho Ho Ho-ing around another human being, your body will start to associate that person with relaxation and good times and develop a sneaking and highly enjoyable Bond of Affection and then you're off and running. So it's not all about Fighting, although in some ways it is all about Stupid Shit. One way or another. But I digress.

Let's recap again: One of the reasons you two crazy fighting kiddos put up with each other is indeed love/connection/commitment, whether you intended it or not and whether you would like to continue along that path or not. For the moment, it is part of the deal.

Now, the next element of your question is whether or not you are also putting up with each other due to the "we are just stubborn perfectionists and giving up/walking away/ generally losing the relationship battle isn't in our nature" Factor. The short answer is no, not really.

You may in fact both be stubborn perfectionists who do not want to give up, walk away, or lose a relationship battle. This does happen. The most disturbing depiction of this taken to extremes Ive ever seen was in the movie The War of the Roses with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner I think. It was about people getting divorced and the lengths they would go to in order to avoid losing.

But that's about people divorcing, and that sort of reaction is not uncommon post-breakup. But you and your GF haven't actually broken up yet. So the bald and yet logical and yet irrational fact is that at the moment, however stupid it may be, the two of you on some level enjoy battling. Which is fine. Even people who do not enjoy battling kinda sorta enjoy battling because there are special Scientifically Identified Brain Sectors that exist almost solely so that they can yell "Fight! Woo hoo! Check it out! I am so loving this!"

These sectors enjoy things such as WWF, Mixed Martial Arts, videos of bears attacking helpless humans, soap operas, big budget movies, sports competitions of various sorts, tic tac toe, and all other kinds of things. These sectors have so much effect on our daily lives that there's no way to get rid of them. Indeed, while penning this very immortal prose, my ears detected the tell-tale sounds of a guy and a girl having a fight in the vicinity and I literally jumped up to check it out and see what was going on. Really I did. I couldn't help it. Conflict just fascinates our brains.

But again, this is a physiological thing, not a philosophical or moral thing. And since it is activated by little tiny physiological things like neurons and micro bits of chemical transmitters and so on, there are variations from person to person. Because people's bodies just vary. So...

Some people can physically handle the stimulation of a lot of Personal Fighting, a lot of Voyeuristic Fighting, Very Little Fighting of Any Sort, and all kinds of variations in between. At the moment, you and your GF are physically able to handle Fairly Regular and Yet Maddeningly Intermittent Personal Conflict. That's pretty normal. It may change for either or both of you over time, because again this is a physical thing, so if you get spinal meningitis or something your tolerance for Personal Conflict may dip well below current levels.

You could call this a personality thing if you want to. I have no objection. You could even call it Interpersonal Competitiveness if you want. Such IC has been the basis of many an exciting and rewarding romantic relationship. But either way, it's not so much about the outcome (winning or losing) as it is about the sensation (stimulation). For example, I personally hate to lose an argument of any sort so much that experienced members of my family will start cautiously backing across state lines if they so much as sense that I am getting into arguing mode with anyone. This personality trait has been well-documented since I was about 4 years old. But that preference (against losing) does not keep me in relationships with people, even with people who provide me with excellent amounts of high-quality Argument Stimulation.

Because the key to putting up with each other is whether the overall levels of stimulation are working for you. Since you wrote in asking about it, it is possible that the Stimulation Mix is not really working out for you these days, and that the Argument Stimulation levels are now creeping toward the red zone.

And that makes things conceptually very simple. Because either you're fighting about the right amount or you're not fighting about the right amount. You, quite sensibly, want to know which it is.

So let's figure it out. If you find that a) frequently you really really really want to break up and then later (after a fight has calmed down) you find that you really really really really don't, then

You Are Addicted. And sooner or later, you must go cold turkey. Sooner or later may be shortly before your death at age 89 or approximately 6 hours from now, but sooner or later you will have to deal with the addiction.

If you find that b) you never really want to break up no matter how often you fight then,

You Are Committed. This may not last forever, but for the moment you are committed.

If you find that c) you have no fucking idea whether you want to break up or stay together during, before or after a fight, then

You Are in Rational Decision-Making Mode. Which is the worst possible place to be! Oh boy. So we'll spend the most time on this one. Special Note: Just because you and your GF are involved in the same fights does not mean that you are in the same mode. You may be addicted and she may be committed. Or vice versa. Or both of you may be Unfortunately Rational.

In Rational Decision-Making Mode, your body is attempting to tote up the relative merits and demerits of staying together, gauging the strength and benefits of the love your fighting has accidentally produced versus the potential for finding someone else that you might enjoy fighting with much more and with a greater sense of commitment. This is the most likely spot for you to be in, again, given the tone of your email.

This is just awful, because how can your body know, how can it gauge all the information when it doesn't have it? It can't really. So it goes through an exhausting process in which it tries to evaluate the physiological sensations it experiences while comparing and contrasting them to imaginary physiological sensations it would be experiencing if it was in entirely different circumstances. Would you feel better if you broke up? What would it feel like if you broke up? Would it feel humiliating, triumphant, lonely, boring, liberating? How the hell would you know since you aren't broken up? Furthermore, how can you gauge when the body, thanks to frequent fighting, is perpetually pumping out Compensating Chemicals that distort your ability to understand what you are experiencing?

So here's a hint. The body is not really good at making these judgments until it gets A Lot of Experience. It accumulates experience by Living Through Misery. And then discovering, accidentally and much to its surprise, that Misery Is Temporary.

Let me translate that into real life terms. What your body would probably prefer would be that you find and Fall in Love with Someone Much Better before disentangling yourself from this person so that you could Smoothly and Expertly Slide From One Relationship to Another With Minimal Upset.

This could happen, but it's somewhat more likely that it will happen with something approaching Maximal Upset. But maybe not.

So you can either:

1) Hang Around In This Relationship and See What Happens or

2) Bail and See What Happens.

If you bail, things will Temporarily Suck. Even if you are making the worst mistake of your life (not likely), the length of the deepest darkest suckiness will be Temporary. It may seem like a pretty long case of Temporary, but it will still be Temporary. If you can forthrightly and with steely courage face the possibility of Temporary Suckiness of a Duration Not Entirely Predictable, then you can go ahead and bail. This is a good option if deep in your heart you kinda sorta really want to bail, but are thinking oh you know what, it may suck. It will; you'll live, and after awhile, you'll find yourself facing a New Set of Bewildering Circumstances. Maybe you really are thinking that you'll never find anyone better and that you'd better just shut up and deal. And I don't know, maybe you never will find anyone better. Kinda doubtful, but entirely possible. But sooner or later, you'll find someone new. And then you can start driving her crazy!

If you do not bail, if you hang around, then Things Will Suck In A Way That You Are Used To. They will continue to suck in this manner until you either say to yourself "Oh you know what? Fuck it! I'm bailing." Or until you and your GF Get Used To Each Other and figure out how to Not Do Things Together So Much.

And so really what you are deciding is whether or not you want things to suck in a Novel Manner or in a Familiar Manner. If you are feeling generally lazy and tired, then a Familiar Manner is the way to go. Eventually, you may get energetic and opt for a Novel Manner, but you can continue to hang until you feel energetic. If you are bored with the Familiar Manner, then the Novel Manner is the way to go.

Sometimes this decision makes itself for you, via your body or subconscious mind or whatever the hell you want to call it. For example, your body may attempt to make a rational decision and decide "My boy here needs practice being in a relationship so I'm not going to bail until I have gotten suffiicent quantities of that Practice and then I'll bail." Sometimes the body has its own timetable and it will not be rushed. Or it may do the opposite and stage a Dramatic Breakup over the Meaning of the Phrase Al Dente As Applied to Spaghetti. You may have no idea why this is. You may find it hard to explain why you are still with someone with whom you regularly fight over opening the car trunk or why you broke up with someone because she didn't understand what al dente means. But you don't really need to have a good idea of why you are doing anything and when it comes to explanations, all you need is a reaonable ability to come up with a Plausible Lying Excuse. This is a life skill you should be developing anyway.

So all you really need to know is this:

Do I feel like bailing or do I feel like staying?

You don't really have to know why you feel the way you do, you just need to know which way you feel. If you feel first one way and then another, then you can take the Lazy Man's Way Out, which is this:

When you feel like bailing, say (out loud to your GF): God, I really feel like bailing on this relationship. This fighting over stupid shit is getting so old. I'm sick of it. Nothing ever changes.

And then you watch what happens. If she says "No kidding. Let's break up immediately. I can't stand you!" then you see what happens next. If your body says "What?!?!?!?!?! NFW! You can't break up with me, I'm breaking up with you!" and then you have a huge fight and then you have to stay together because neither of you will allow the other to be the breaker-upper and your body says "damn! that was fun! Let's do it again!" then you know. It's fun and you can keep on doing it until it's not fun.

If she says "yeah, let's call the whole thing off," and your body says 'oh thank the dear Lord in Heaven, maybe this endless nightmare is nearly done," then you know. It's over and that was relatively easy and the Sucking In a Novel Manner phase can begin without too much fanfare.

If she says "no, no, no, we can work it out," and your body thinks "Oh please, let's not work it out," then you know. And you just say it out loud and put minimal effort into lazily Being Truthful until it's clear to everyone that your lazy butt is really not going to make any attempt to work things out.

If she says, 'no we can work it out,' and your body thinks 'uh, okay, whatever.' Then you know, you just really don't feel like breaking up right now but would rather be passive.

By the same token, when the Staying Impulse bubbles up, just express it. And see what happens.

In other words, if you just express your Internal Conflicts, you can get the other person to do at least half the work!

This is a super-duper advanced Relationship Technique known as Communication, and although Communication almost always appears to be a Dubious Proposition at first glance, it is in reality a Labor-Saving Device that eventually leads to Not Doing Things Together, which, as we already saw, Reduces Conflict.

Let's recap yet again:

Dude, you know you want to bail. Seriously, you know you do!

But you may be hampered from taking bailing action by Laziness, Fear of Novel Suckiness, Need for More Practice, or some other mysterious "X" factor, such as not wanting to all that much. So I can't make you bail and I can't even, in good conscience, encourage you to. So I can only lay things out:

1) Yes, there is a certain amount of love in your relationship. This is largely irrelevant at the moment, but it is there. And kind of a good thing in its own way.

2) Your dilemma at the moment has relatively little to do with your personality, being more influenced by the physiology of relationships.

3) What does matter is whether you feel like bailing or hanging. If you feel like bailing, then bail. If you feel like hanging, then hang. Either option is fine. Really.

4) If you do not know which you feel or if you feel alternating bail/hang impulses, try Lazy Truthful Communication. Lazy Truthful Communication does sometimes evoke strong feelings in communicatees, so wear appropriate padding and protective clothing if necessary before embarking upon it. It often works though, and will either solve your problem eventually or end up solving a bunch of other problems you did not realize you had! That's always fun.

Using your natural talent for Deep Thought to contemplate these simple precepts will lead to you to realize that basically nothing is wrong with either you or your life but that the lack of wrongness will in no way constitute a magical ability to avoid Suckiness. And you will also realize, if you read closely, that sooner or later things are going to get better because either you will bail and end up finding someone better or you will stay and learn how to not to do things together and therefore stop fighting with your current girlfriend.

The fact that you have a regular life that is inevitably going to get better is disappointing, though, and not very dramatic. So now we'll suddenly veer into an entirely new line of thought, one with much more drama potential. It may not apply to you now, but maybe some day it will! And it certainly applies to a lot of other people, so let's take a moment to eavesdrop on their problems while indulging the Fight-Loving Brain Centers at absolutely no risk to ourselves!

New Line of Thought: What if, what if, what if I am involved in a relationship that involves constant fighting but cannot bail because the person I am fighting with does not love me and I absolutely positively cannot leave until they do, which they never will, so I am trapped forever!

 

Ooooh, Trapped Forever In Love Hell! What's That LIke?

 

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