When I first heard, “Love is a Battlefield”, as a high schooler, I thought of it only in terms of romantic love, and I wasn’t sure I agreed. I imagined a chessboard that took over an entire landscape, rolling over mountains and valleys. It was there that the battle was raged, each time I heard the song- the male and female warriors constantly driving against one another, trying to win.
It would be nearly two decades before I realized that romantic love doesn’t offer the only killing ground. It can be there in any purportedly loving relationship, when someone puts their wants ahead of another’s need, or uses greater power, capacity, or authority to menace and force others to their will…
I couldn’t see it when I lived on the battlefield, but I was raised with the certainty that love can and does hurt, that the powerful would dominate the weak, and that it was self-preservation to always, ALWAYS be wary of the people around you, and the circumstances, because guarded truces and cease-fires could end with no warning at all. Annihilation of spirit and assaults to the body were givens- always just a matter of time.
Our home was love’s battlefield, and the wars couldn’t be avoided.
It’s hard to understand that, if it’s all that you’ve known. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I began to realize it. Without any intention of doing so, I’d dug trenches, armed myself, and designated front lines in my own home, with my own husband and little children. I didn’t know, really, that it could be another way for us.
I also didn’t know how strongly certain defense mechanisms were embedded in me, and that, when one was triggered, I wasn’t capable of responding with logic or compassion. Nope, it was straight-on fight or flight, just as it had been when I was a kid, and had no way out. Afterward, I’d be sorry – but there was so much I didn’t know that it would happen again, and again.
One of the best things I’ve ever done to learn to build a lasting peace -in my home, my family, and my life – was to read Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, by Thich Nhat Hanh. It helped me to see my rage in new ways, and to pay attention to it, and what it was trying to tell me, rather than hide from it, or be controlled by it.
When I realized that I was triggered by my husband sighing because my father had often sighed just before he launched into a fit of rage that could end with me on the floor trying to avoid his blows, I was also able to realize that my Accomplice sighs when he’s content, or frustrated, or angry – but that he’s never once laid a hand on me in anger. When we argued, and he stood in the doorway, I wasn’t reacting to him, so much as the old terror of being a trapped child who couldn’t escape what were often untenable and frightening circumstances.
I was unfairly judging my husband on the basis of a family history he doesn’t share and can’t truly understand. And it was causing problems in our marriage, and our family. I’ve since learned that the “fight-or-flight” instinct lasts about 90 seconds. If I can resist it that long, I will be able to think more clearly, and choose more wisely.
It made me see my own responses, and the things that precipitated them, in a new light. It helped me learn to assess each situation only by itself. It’s been a few years, and we now have a far more peaceful home.
Something else came from this learning. I understand my parents in a way I didn’t, before. I think back to my childhood, and wonder how many things each day triggered memories of their own childhoods. There was certainly a “flashpoint” quality to their rages that extended well into my adulthood. I suspect many people may be responding to triggers from their own pasts when they unleash their furies – and that they have no idea, usually, that the problem isn’t nearly so much with the current target of their rage than with the long-ago perpetrator….
I’m estranged from my parents, because there seemed no other way to dismantle the trappings of a battlefield in those relationships. But I don’t blame them for the carnage in my childhood; I think I understand, even if I choose not to engage.
Because there is a choice, for me, now. I don’t have to live out the pattern I was raised within, and love doesn’t have to be a battlefield, here, in my life.
And it isn’t.
It’s a lot more like this (yes, including the wonderful silliness!):
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