If there’s one thing I hate more than any other, it’s going to bed after a fight still seething with anger.
All those hateful, half-meant words are left hanging in the air, drawing an invisible barrier down the middle of the bed which neither of us will cross, mired as we are in stubborn self-righteousness. The unresolved tension in the room is palpable: I can feel it, smell it, taste it. I lie, every muscle locked, jaw clenched, breathing in, breathing out, knowing that sleep will elude me for hours, knowing that the next morning I’ll feel battered, bruised and melancholy. Sometimes I get up, creep into Tadpole’s room and lay beside her for a while, drawing a basic, animal comfort from her sleeping presence. Short of sitting on the toilet or standing in the kitchen there’s actually nowhere else to go. But any reprieve is only temporary: I’ll have to return to the living room-cum-bedroom sometime. I’ll have to return to our bed, stretch out beside him, my husband, wondering whether he’s seething too, or has fallen asleep, leaving me to seethe alone.
Getting married – lovely in countless ways – hasn’t miraculously transformed the dynamic of our relationship. We alternate periods of blissful happiness and intense physical complicity with short bursts of conflict, just like we always have. I know the latter are temporary. At best, he’ll come home from work and act as though nothing happened and I’ll follow suit, play acting woodenly at first, then slowly relaxing until the farce becomes reality. At worst we’ll have a post-mortem, during which the animosity may flare up again, briefly, before it’s laid to rest.
What worries me is that the underlying cause is never actually resolved. The triggers vary, but the subject at its core is constant, rearing its ugly head time and time again. In a nutshell, and without actually raking through our dirty laundry, it’s about where the right to individual freedom blurs into selfishness. Every fight gives us extra ammunition; the evidence for our respective cases stacks up. He treats me to a retrospective, pulling out every notable example from the past six months, demonstrating by A+B+C that I’m fundamentally flawed. My line of attack is different, but no less destructive: I project present behaviour into future situations, anticipating problems ahead.
When I’m calm, no longer seething, I can see his point of view. I’m not blind to my own flaws – a dash of possessiveness, a hint of insecurity, a sprinkling of irrationality, among others – and he’s not the first person to have pointed them out to me. I may be able to alter certain behavioural patterns, over time, and I can certainly admit that a particular thing I said, or a way in which I reacted was clumsy, aggressive, or just plain wrong. I can apologise for A or B or C.
But I can’t help thinking that as long as the core subject remains unresolved, the rest is just window dressing. And I fear this means that, nestling between the periods of blissful happiness and intense physical complicity, there may be many more nights of seething up ahead until we find a way to figure this out.