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Fighting, Winning, and Forgiveness in Relationships  

We did some cleaning and decluttering in our house this month, and I came across an old quote I had clipped out of a magazine over a year ago. I thought the central message would be good to share with you so I provide it below, with some commentary. The quote is from Tom Junod, a journalist who writes primarily for Esquire magazine and who has won several prestigious awards for his work.

A fight to the finish is what finishes a marriage. That’s because over the course of married life, people supply their spouses with precisely what’s required to finish them off. The question is not who can win, because anyone can win if they’re willing to go far enough – if they’re willing to win at the cost of love and respect. The question is who can resist the temptation of winning. If your marriage is healthy, you are fighting to restore the balance of power. You are fighting to find out what’s worth fighting for . . . and you will find out that what you are fighting for is the marriage itself. What matters most to a marriage is forgiveness, and forgiveness doesn’t come for free. You have to fight for it.

Nicely said Tom. I couldn’t have said it better myself. But let me emphasize a couple of points. First, the idea that over the course of a marriage people supply their spouses with what’s required to finish them off. I wrote last month about risk in relationship and how risk creates intimacy. The biggest risk in relationship, and the biggest source of intimacy, is making yourself vulnerable to your partner. So, if you are in a healthy relationship you are sharing those things that make you vulnerable and that give your partner the ammunition to destroy you. The trust to share such stuff is at the heart of a healthy relationship.

If you are in a healthy relationship you have the ammunition to win pretty much any fight with your spouse. Or if both of you are willing to “win at the cost of love and respect” you might end up with what is called in swordsmanship “the mutual kill.” So, as Junod says, it is important to recognize that in a relationship you are fighting for something other than the win. I like his idea that you are fighting for the marriage itself and to restore the balance of power. It underlines the idea that it is not so much the outcome of fights, or even the resolution of fights, that is important, but rather how the fight takes place. Try to remember that when you are fighting, about whatever, you are really fighting for your relationship itself.