“How could you not know I was upset with you?” I asked him, boggling. “How could you possibly have thought that trip went well? We fought the whole time.”
“We did not fight,” he replied.
I found myself speechless out of shock. “I cried and yelled. You argued and yelled back, and you also seemed really upset. It lasted forever. Really, it only ended because we both got tired.”
“That’s not a fight,” he said. “We didn’t fight. That’s a disagreement.”
“Okay, use whatever word for it you want,” I said. “But it was still obviously a very heated disagreement. We were both clearly very upset.”
“Fighting is when people throw things and break them. Or when there’s violence,” he continued.
I sighed. Didn’t say anything else.
He proceeded to lecture me about how he felt like I was using the term wrong. How our relationship was fine because we never fought. We just had a lot of disagreements.
Disagreements in which I am getting really, really freaking upset, I thought to myself. And in the moment, I noted that we were disagreeing yet again.
Because of course we were.
People Are Very Devoted to Their “Fight” Labels
It seems that every time you talk about interpersonal conflict, you’ll run into people who are very devoted to their preferred labels. For example, on pieces where I’ve mentioned that occasional conflict is inevitable when dealing with other people, I’ve had readers say that they don’t have conflict with their partners, just disagreements.
When I’ve inquired more about the nature of these disagreements, sometimes they are quite heated. Unproductive. And some of them are dramatic, involving things like someone hurling a chair at the wall.
Sure sounds like something that falls under the umbrella of “conflict” to me. It sounds like it could even meet my ex-partner’s high bar for “fight.”
But not to them. Ah, disagreement, that euphemism. It really gets around. (Along with its sinister fraternal twin “argument”).
My Brain Remembers the Conflict/Fight/Disagreement/Argument Itself & Not the Label
I’ve always had a hard time keeping those labels straight. Since I grew up in a house where my family used the terms pretty much interchangeably (not attaching much emotional weight or context to any of them), I find I have to try to remember the conflict schema of the person I’m talking to.
It’s a way I frankly suck as a partner: Sometimes I literally can’t remember if it’ll be more expedient when talking to a particular person to refer to a bump in the road as a fight (even if it was relatively minor) or a conflict (even if that’s fairly general) or a disagreement (even if that’s euphemistic).
My brain remembers the conflict (slash fight slash disagreement slash argument) itself and doesn’t place a lot of stock in the label that either of us slapped on it before, during, or after.
But that’s important to other people, so I try. It would be easier if people universally agreed on where the lines were for each (but I’m here to tell you that they don’t, even though some people will try to tell you everyone agrees).
In any event, it’s fascinating to me that even when it comes to talking about the way we clash with people, we sometimes conflict, fight, disagree, or argue.
Books by Page Turner: