The other day my spouse and I had a Stupid Fight. You know, the fights you have sometimes with someone close to you that are about stupid nothing. The ones that happen all of a sudden, something just lights up - some irritant gets you in just the right spot while you’re washing dishes or a child. The ones that happen maybe when you’re both tired and oversensitive, or maybe there’s been an earlier, deeper offense; or maybe there’s some anxiety humming in the background. When whatever anger is below the surface of your calm finds a vent and erupts.
They are usually about the most mundane things, at least superficially. You can hardly remember why the conflict started. What you should have been able to shrug off or solve with one sentence becomes a conflagration. I most often observe these happening in the context of close relationships that are at some level “safe”, or at least longstanding.
Earlier on in our marriage, we would do Stupid Fights more often. Now we’ve learned a few things (not that we have it all sanctimoniously figured out, but 14.5 years is a fair amount of time for practice):
- If your calm was that easy to crack, it was fake.
- Either a) give vent to the emotion and let it play out without truly hurting each other, or b) someone take a walk.
- The stupid fight is not the real issue, but it’s pointing to it.
- The work is in the deeper, more vulnerable conversation that comes after, once the magma has cooled.
My wise friend Sharon says, “Emotions are messengers and messengers are angels.” I think she’s right. My experience with Stupid Fights is that they are often merciful messages telling us there is something needing attention. They are opportunities for a meaningful conversation. The rub is this: the Stupid Fights are easy to blindly engage in and may even feel cathartic; but the real thing that’s beneath - the difficult challenging thing - is the one you’ve been avoiding. It’s the one that’s going to take some courage and vulnerability to talk about.
I’ve said this many times to friends who are getting married: Marriage is like a mirror that shows you your true self - you won’t be able to escape your own truth in it. But really I think any authentic relationship is a kind of mirror. It’s why church is always so messy: we are always revealing ourselves to each other whether we intend to or not, and generally trying to avoid what we don’t want to see.
All that to say: I’m a fan of Stupid Fights, with caveats. Have the Stupid Fight - fight well, without abuse! - then when it’s safe and the pressure is lower, do the real work the Stupid Fight was clueing you into.
God, we expend all kinds of energy avoiding ourselves.
We are difficult people.
Because we avoid our deepest selves, we tend to think you’re avoiding us too;
But you’re always close by.
You’re always mercifully holding up a mirror so we can see ourselves better.
Our best mirrors are our closest relationships.
We often expose each other’s weakness,
Irritate each other,
Make each other angry,
Hurt each other.
We say things we don’t mean
And things we do.
We hold grudges.
When we are in conflict, give us the energy and courage to do the real work:
To be vulnerable
To share and listen
To resist shame
To let our anger and pain teach us
To explore our own souls
To be kind
To be merciful.
We embrace the messengers that point us to the deep issues:
Thank you for emotions.
Help us to hear the messages
And do the messy work of transformation.