By Dr. Steve
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Whats All the Fighting About?
The feeling we have that we deserve to have everything just
the way we want it ends up destroying spontaneity.
dont need no shrink to tell me what the problem is. I understand only too well. What
she needs is a good hobby or even to go back to work.
problem is your wife isnt busy enough? I asked, trying to understand his read
on the situation.
all it boils down to. She just has too much time on her hands. When she starts to
thinking, she starts making herself unhappy.
wifes unhappy because she thinks unhappy thoughts? I asked.
Well, now youre making it too simplified. I know that its more than
that. But, honestly, Doc, whats all this mumbo jumbo about my needs, my
wifes needs are mumbo jumbo? I asked.
Doc, come on, dont go making me out to be the bad guy here. Youre starting to
confuse me. What I mean to say is, whats so all fire important about her needs? You
never hear me complaining about my emotional needs do you?
question the importance of what your wife wants from you? I asked.
know, Doc, why is it that when you say it, I feel like such a heel? Of course what she
wants from me is important, I guess. Its just that, well, you dont know how my
wife is. You gotta be firm with her. You cant give in. You gotta hold the
marriage is a competitive game like football, where you have to have a strategy for
everything? I asked.
Doc, I swear youre putting words into my mouth. I didnt say any such thing.
Its just that, if you give her an inch, shell take a mile. You know what I
afraid I dont, I replied.
listen then. I know exactly what will happen. It starts out with wanting to be hugged.
Everytime I see her, she gets this funny look in her eyes. And I know there aint no
just doing it once.
doesnt start and end with just one hug. Then she wants me to start kissing her when
I come home at night. Cant you see what Im getting at?
dont know how to say no once you say yes? I guessed.
no, thats not what I mean at all. What I mean is, if it was just the hugging and the
kissing, I could put up with that, I suppose. But you know where this all is heading,
must admit, youre ahead of me on this, why dont you tell me, I replied.
I could put up with the occasional peck on the cheek. The hug, well, we all have to make
compromises. But then the thing that comes next, the thing I hate worse than anything.
shell want us to start having talks. Like going for a walk or sitting on the patio
way. No how. Not in this lifetime.
mean Ive got a life too, you know. Thats what Im saying to you, Doc. If
you dont draw the line in the beginning, shell just keep taking and taking and
taking. And what happens to me in all of this?
will I have time for myself? How will I be able to do the things I want to do, if we start
paying so much attention to what she wants all the time?
cant she be like me? I ask very little of the world. Hey, lifes tough, but you
just gotta learn to be there for yourself. Theres no sense counting on anybody
would like it if she just held her breath? I asked.
there you go again. You didnt hear me say that, did you? Its just, why
doesnt she learn to tough things out? Thats what works best for me.
looked at him with a hint of resignation in my eyes and said, I dont know.
Your solution to just say no seems to me to be a prescription for disaster rather than a
means to be involved with your partner.
my friend in the story merely selfish, self-centered, insensitive, and uncaring? Perhaps
so, but what value is there in thinking of him that way? If we relate to him only on that
basis, we have guaranteed ourselves a neverending struggle based on name calling and
justifying ones behavior.
I prefer to think of my friend as merely frightened. Maybe he could express that more
clearly, but I think its undeniable that beneath all of his insensitivities beats
the heart of somebody whos terrified of what will happen to him anytime he gives in
to his wife.
clear that he sees the only way to take care of himself is to dig his heels in, to
withhold what his wife wants from him. Its easy to see the inevitable disaster that
comes when the ways he protects himself denies his partner at the same time.
this is the issue over which much of the conflict is waged in our relationships. Power and
control. Two of the dirtiest words in any relationship. Youre so
controlling. All he wants is to be in control. Its like waving a
red cape in front of a bull. Bring on power and control and let the games begin.
and control. Them are fighting words. Power and control. These two words can take any
aspect of a relationship and escalate conflict to its highest pitched frenzy. Power and
control. These energies hide so much of whats buried beneath the surface of any
have you stopped to think about this? Have you stopped to think about the fact that
controlling behavior serves to mask something deeper within? Can you see how controlling
behavior masks your fears? Does it make sense to you that the vortex created by the
battles waged over power and control are merely the means to bury the fears that live
beneath the surface of any relationship?
fears are many. We need some manner to quell them. Think about my friend in the previous
story. Think about what he may be so frightened of. Can you see how frightened he is to
allow himself to get close to his wife? Just imagine how frightening it is for him to have
someone be vulnerable with him. Do you get the sense that he believes that the only way to
insure his autonomy is by resisting? Can you see how his sense of independence becomes
threatened by the mere suggestion that he go along with what his wife would like him to
you listen hard enough, its easy to hear how overwhelmed he is by his own
needs and vulnerabilities. And so he needs a way to disconnect from what hes
feeling. He needs a way to turn down the intensity. He needs a way to insure that he
doesnt have to experience what frightens him so much. Bring on the control--turn up
saddens me when I watch him stir up chaos in order to deny his own humanness. Thats
what hes really denying. His emotional needs, he being the sustenance for his
wifes needs, his desire to protect his autonomy, his fear of not being able to
influence his life, these are all part of being human. However, these aspects of being
human--depending upon somebody else, needing somebody else, working cooperatively with
somebody else--are all too often viewed as being an expression of being weak, insecure,
my friend goes through life cut off from much of his humanity. He suffers for it. His
partner suffers for it. Ultimately, his relationship suffers for it, as well.
what much of what the drama is about. The endless tug-of-wars. The pushing, the pulling.
Digging your heels in. Defiance. Entrenched positions. Inflexibility.
going on beneath the surface? What self-protective mode are we in when we find ourselves
part of an endless arm wrestling match with our partner?
things our way. Trying to hold on to what we have. Believing the only way to keep what
weve got is to never let go. Frightened that if we do let go, well suffer
to have a say in our destiny. Always having to believe we can influence the
uninfluenceable. Without question, the drama is important to understand for what it
expresses about whats going on beneath the surface.
much churning beneath the struggle, beneath the need to control, beneath the need to
distance ourselves from our sense of vulnerability. In the next two chapters well
examine more closely two crucial issues that are the underbelly of much of the surface
behaviors associated with power and control. These two issues are the fears provoked by
emotional intimacy and the fears provoked by our loss of autonomy as we begin to
blend our lives with another person.
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.