When couples come in for therapy, often one of their biggest challenges is being able to fight well
In case you've missed the phenomenon that is Ronda Rousey, let me bring you up to speed. Rousey is the number one female MMA fighter in the world. She is the current UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, and an all around badass that holds her own in and out of the ring. She embodies the strong female ideal and pulls it off with an incredible amount of sass and self-confidence that leaves you wanting to be just like her when you grow up.
I heard about her several months ago but didn't pay much attention to her. I have never watched MMA, and honestly I cringe every time I see football players collide, so I naturally assumed nothing about MMA fighting would appeal to me. So I wrote off the hype of this female MMA fighter and went on my merry way.
Then one morning last week, I had a few extra hours before heading off to work. I planned to spend the time checking email, drinking coffee and getting in some early morning reading before the busyness of my day started. Sounds lovely, yeah? Instead, I found myself watching video after video of Rousey. Her fights, her interviews, all of it. I discovered what all the hype was about and I set off to work that day feeling tougher than I had felt in months. It was almost as if watching videos of her awoke in me an MMA persona I never knew I had.
As I drove to work, I began to wonder how I felt I could identify with someone who has such a different profession than me. I'm a therapist, and as much as I've wanted to put people in head locks at work, it's not what I do. But I still felt that something about Rousey inspired me and awoke in me a tenacity that was there, just dormant. Then I met with my first couple of the day. And the light bulb went off.
When couples come in for therapy, often one of their biggest challenges is being able to fight well and feel that whatever the resolution is, that's it's addressed both of their concerns equally. Often, one person has a more difficult time holding their own in a conflict, and the other person has a more difficult time not dominating the process. This pattern is a sure fire way to cultivate resentment in even the best relationships. Stereotypically, women have a harder time sticking in the fight, and men are more prone to dominate, but there are always exceptions to this. For the sake of this article, I'm going to use these stereotypes with the full knowledge that not everyone fits these, and frequently the dynamics are flipped.
Let's for a moment think about how most girls are trained from a young age. Girls are usually raised to be obedient and care for the people around them. These sound like fantastic qualities for kids, don't they? You want your kids to think of others, to do what you ask of them and to avoid "talking back". As a parent, I get that it would make things easier if our children just did as they were told all the time. You and I could absolutely find better ways to spend our precious time.
However, the patterns we learn as children become very difficult to change as we enter into adult relationships. As women begin to fight for their integrity and the well-being of their relationships, they often have a tremendous learning curve. Especially as our kids get older, we need to give them license to voice their opinion, tell us when they want things to change, and be brave enough to stand up to us. If they can do this with us, they'll be better equipped to hold their own and speak for themselves when they get into relationships as adults.
In the same way we don't train our girls to hold their own in conflict, we don't train our boys to collaborate with the women in their lives. When the women they love start to push back, they often don't know how to respond. Instead of creating space for their partner to meet them head on, they can often double down their efforts to control the situation.
Training our kids to show up to a conflict and speak up doesn't mean not keeping them accountable for the way they engage in conflict with us. We require respectful, honest, collaboration to life's challenges. The same attributes we expect in our adult relationships. And hopefully our children will experience this kind of respectful, collaborative relationship with us, so that when they meet people who can't tolerate this kind of relationship, they can quickly move on.
Healthy, satisfying marriages are not conflict-free marriages. They are marriages that have two people who each hold their own, respecting the other and collaborating to find a resolution. That's what we aim for in therapy, and that's what we hope is the norm in our relationships. As our girls and boys get older, it's essential we train them to speak up and collaborate with us so they are equipped to do this when they have adult relationships.
Here's the bottom line: You can't find resolution to conflicts in your relationships if you're not a team. You can't be a team if you're not equal partners. And you can't be equal partners if each partner doesn't hold their own and respect the other person for doing the same.
As women harness the fighting spirit of women like Rousey, and as men embrace the fighting spirit of their partners, much of the tragedy that so often pulls couples apart could more effectively be resolved.
So if you're a parent, consider shifting your focus to helping your children learn to respectfully engage, collaborate and hold their own even when it's inconvenient. And if you're in a relationship, reflect on your tendency to capitulate or to dominate, and embrace the tension that comes with honest conflict between equals. Allow women like Rousey to embolden you, and challenge you to get back in the fight and engage with the people that mean the most. This is truly what leads to intimacy and long-term satisfying relationships. And hopefully one day women like Rousey won't be quite as fascinating, but just your average gal.