I’ve learned recently that I can’t have CNBC’s daily blocks of “Shark Tank” playing in the background while doing important things, because I always get sucked in. “Ratchetality TV,” however, is a different story: I treat “Real Housewives of Love and Hip-Hop with Black Ink Crews” like I do Big Sean’s music: it can play when I’m in the room but I’m never paying any real attention to the players, the “plot line” or the dialogue.
Like everyone else, however, my ears perk up when niggas start shouting at each other on my television. I recently had the tube tuned to VH1 as it played an episode of one of the franchises (I still can’t tell them apart), and a man and a woman whom I assumed were a couple were going in on each other, guns blazing, screaming and swearing at the top of their lungs. I thought someone was gonna catch hands, so I stopped what I was doing and zeroed in with the fascination of someone watching a slow-moving car crash.
It also made me feel something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. Of the myriad unhealthy dynamics that can take down any marriage or long-term relationship, the one that I never overcame in my now-dissolved marriage was our inability to disagree productively – specifically, our disagreements often devolved into nasty verbal battles. So, when I see couples on “reality” television going at it like I did with my ex, I instantly become pessimistic about the long-term prospects of that relationship.
I strongly believe in learning and growing from my mistakes instead of harboring regrets. But in everything that occurred within our five-and-a-half years together, good or bad, the one thing I truly regret is that two people who loved each other so deeply allowed themselves to express their anger so carelessly and, at times, maliciously. How could I allow myself to become apoplectic to the degree that I blacked out, screaming profanities in her face at the top of my lungs and punching holes through my own doors? What motivated her to get so angry that she would ball her fists up and drive them into my chest (albeit knowing she would do no real damage), or to once fling a knife in my general vicinity?
How I wound up exhibiting this behavior to begin with is, perhaps, fodder for a therapist’s chair. I know that my very earliest memory is of my father raging down the hallway of my childhood home, yelling at my mother as she buckled against the front door, sobbing, while 3- or 4-year-old me yelled at them both to stop. They were divorced very shortly thereafter.
But I’ve historically have never demonstrated a propensity for my father’s quick temper; despite a love of debating incendiary topics and generally talking shit, I’m not aggressive or confrontational at my core. I grew up fighting, but largely as a means of self-defense. I’ve bickered with ex-girlfriends like everyone else, but extraordinarily rare was the case in which anyone raised their voices. In the middle of one of these explosive arguments with my wife, she called my mother – with whom I’m quite close – who heard me yelling and swearing in the background. She told her, “That’s not my son. I don’t even know who that is.”
I also spent my youth mistakenly conflating the strength and independence of my mother with “difficulty,” thinking that I wanted a long-term partner with whom I could have a fight or two from time to time to keep things interesting. By her own admission, my ex-wife often committed the mortal relationship sin of leveraging things she knew I was sensitive about against me in arguments, though she was careful to acknowledge it and apologize during our make-ups. Years before we met, I told my homie Marcus that I wanted to marry difficult woman; in the middle of many arguments, his response echoed in my head: “You don’t want that, man. You want peace in your home.”
But my ex’s nature was absolutely no excuse for my actions. She didn’t make me yell at her; no one can make you do anything. My behavior was even more deplorable considering the gender and power dynamics at play when it comes to shouting down a woman a full foot shorter and 115 pounds lighter than me. I would try to dismiss my behavior as “acceptable” as long as I never lay hands on her, but considering emotional scars often remain long after physical ones heal, it wasn’t even close to acceptable.
Of course, the end of most relationships doesn’t result in the automatic dissolution of mutual care or feelings. I will always have love for her and what we had, which is why it still gives me pause to reflect on how my screaming – which was less an attempt to get her to see my side and more a twisted catharsis – often made her frightened of me and sometimes caused her to break out in tears. The only benefit of those incidents forever being burned in my head is that they will always remind me what not to do in future arguments with future partners.
I haven’t had a relationship since my divorce, but in my dating life, I’ve remained constantly aware of how to approach challenging situations in my dating life, which have been virtually nonexistent thanks to a heightened compatibility awareness. If I had to offer any sage advice outside of seeking counseling if you see this dynamic creep in (we went to marriage counseling, but didn’t see it through before it was too late), it’s that you should remember that in-the-moment anger always erodes before long, but what you do or say in that moment can reverberate throughout the life of the relationship.
It can certainly be difficult if you just need to prove your damn point, but nothing is wrong with exiting the room, or even the entire crib, to cool your noodle; I once hopped on a bus to the other end of the city to escape an argument in my home. Also understand that, in the context of a long-term relationship of any kind, pride or moral victories mean precisely dick. Marathon versus sprint, and all that jazz.
I reached many of these conclusions following much reflection throughout the nearly two years since my marriage dissolved. I hope that reading this prevents even one of you from going out like I did.