A Few Small Repairs

Mrs Gripes and I do not customarily fight: we bicker, snipe and grouch; we sulk and use our passive-aggressive wiles; we bear grudges and dredge-up ancient history in order to prop-up our meagre arguments. Such is our unhealthy way of "resolving" conflict. More often than not, we'll just walk away and save our grousing for some other time, maybe even forget it for a month or so until we find an excuse to resurrect our grievance and so start the same argument over and over and over again. This has been our way for around six years.

Like any war of attrition, we don't necessarily notice the losses we have sustained until we are standing alone and exhausted, finally quieted, and look round to assess the damage. And that's where we were this weekend: in the middle of a battlefield, overawed by the damage we had done, trying desperately hard to see how we could make peace.

Unlike our other arguments, which often are trivial and domestic, this one concerned the fundamentals of our relationship: security, trust and personal respect (although, of course, it wasn't couched in those terms at the opening of hostilities...). In fact, at first it did seem as though it was a trivial argument: I'd met up with a friend - someone Mrs Gripes hadn't met - and had spent an afternoon in pleasant company and interesting conversation. Mrs Gripes wasn't quite as happy as I was that I had spent time with an attractive, intelligent and witty woman - particularly one she didn't know. Even more particularly, indeed precisely, a single, attractive, intelligent and witty woman... At first I couldn't quite see that anything was wrong. Then the accusations started.

To see the chasm of distrust and jealousy open up in front of you is an appalling yet compelling thing. The fact I had met with a friend wasn't really the issue. The fact this was a new friend rather than a "historic" one wasn't the issue, either. That I wasn't able to quote verbatim the content of our conversation was possibly a contributing factor. But it still wasn't the problem itself: the problem was older and more basic than that. I saw the chasm of jealousy and distrust in front of me and so I looked in...

Months, maybe years' worth of insecurities, doubts and fears welled-up, bitter and dark and they flooded us. Old hurts were prodded, ripped open and explored - not for the "fun" of arguing but to see if they were still the real cause of pain. Things were said that maybe should never have been said, or maybe should have been said years ago. Certainly I said things that, although I don't regret, I do wish I had said sooner and in less charged times. We didn't raise our voices at all, which was in itself frightening as it suggested a complete control over what we were saying, but took thick, blunt swipes at each other with words aimed to cause most pain. Mrs Gripes disappeared for several hours, driving off angry and fast, leaving me alone, worried and increasingly furious at having no comeback on the silent and absent.

By the time she had returned we had both had time to think about what we really meant to say and so rather than call a truce and let the argument carry over or fizzle out as we usually do, we renewed hostilities, only slower and calmer and more maddeningly cold. However, the time apart meant that we had both formulated arguments and counter arguments in our heads that suited our points best and did not necessarily reflect the views and feelings of our partner/opponent. After another hour or so of restrained raging - and of crying by this time - it was almost dawn and we were getting further and further apart. The initial stimulus for the argument was buried under a rubble-heap of recriminations and acrimony. The broken limbs of the real argument stuck out at crude angles and mocked us. Exhausted and careering further and further apart we went to separate beds and lay painfully awake, each pretending to sleep, each contemplating a life alone. And thinking, thinking, thinking...

I can't remember who made the first move at calling a truce. I can't remember if it was initially welcomed. I can't remember much of the detail of gradually pulling ourselves back together again. I do remember that we started to list the things we both hold dear, that we share and love and respect about each other, that prove that we trust each other with our most fragile hopes and fears, that we would not wish to lose, that we protect in and of each other from everyone else, and I remember that the birds were singing outside, and the sun burned my eyes, and I felt limp and not alone -and the feeling of relief at being held and in being able to hold her.

Our relationship is not perfect. We are not perfect. I know that I do things that are crass and insensitive and I put up with crass insensitivity in turn. I get frustrated, lost and angry and turn my anger inward before even thinking of facing the real problems. Mrs Gripes bottles hers up and lets it explode at the slightest provocation, needing some distance and a full bloody inquest before facing what is at the foundation of the problem. We have a long way to go to fully repair the damage we have done this weekend, but in part this argument is fundamentally part of the repair - the a razing down before building up again. We've already started, but it takes a lot of time and effort to ensure that the foundations are as solid as we need them to be - and we are both agreed that we need and want to be together still. I hope it's enough.



C'lam said...

good luck - i hope you can get through it.

you made me start crying again, and i'd only just managed to stop!

i think that if people are meant to be together, then they will be, even if there are huge obstacles to overcome on the way. this thought is keeping me going.

The Gripes of Wrath said...

*wince* sorry about starting the crying off again - I've not long stopped, myself. Stay strong, hey?

3rd daughter said...

hello, visiting via your guestmap post at dana's (southern girl goes north).

wow!! you totally (and oh, so eloquently) described the constant bickering and arguing that i went through with my ex. sadly, we never managed to repair the foundations (which in hindsight, i now know were never very stable). i wish i had such a way with words.