For as long as I can remember, I've avoided confrontation like the plague. Arguments with friends would end in a brisk walk, tiffs with family would result in a locked door and resounding silence (except my mother — now she I can yell at). Why? Well, the truth is that I find it incredibly hard to totally lose my cool. I don't ever really lose my temper in the cinematic sense, which dramatic films have taught me involves screaming and throwing toasters out of windows.
Instead, I cry. Actually, a better word for it is sob: A torrential downpour that sweeps past my chin and pools in a puddle-like formation on the floor. I ugly-cry like Kim Kardashian until the argument is over, and the cloud of discontent moves from over my head like a passing storm. Then, I wholeheartedly embrace the sun, and promise myself that I'll never let it rain on me again.
This is an extremely unhealthy attitude, and one that I don't condone nor recommend. "Having a healthy relationship does not mean zero conflict," marriage and family therapist, Emmalee Bierly, MFT, told Elite Daily. "It means having better communication skills to work through that conflict." I understand that the root of my hesitance to cause conflict stems from a fear of causing those I love to abandon me, and I'm working on combating that anxiety. I recognize that this is an incredibly simplistic view: Life isn't all sunshine and rainbows when you're content, then thunder and lightning when you're upset. Fighting, or blowing off steam, can in fact be good for you — especially in relationships. I recently learned this lesson firsthand, during a very common relationship stressor: our first big vacation.
The plan was as follows: My partner and I were to fly from New York to Lisbon, Portugal for a few days, then take a train (or two) to the beach town of Lagos, before eventually meeting up with my family there. This was the first "adult" trip that my partner and I had planned abroad and paid for ourselves, so we were understandably nervous and outrageously excited. Would one of us get pickpocketed while asking for directions? Would the other (me) fall into the rivera while daydreaming on the banks? As a textbook Aries, I was eager for our vacation to go off without a hitch. And for the most part, it did.
Five days into our travels, I was overwhelmingly impressed by our performance as a couple. We had conquered a nearly-missed connection in Canada with a high-five and a shared Twix bar. The delay in our second day, caused by extreme jet-lag that led us to sleep until 4:00 p.m. and profusely throw off my itinerary, was met with an uncharacteristic joie de vivre (and I'm a planner, y'all). When I asked my partner to wait three and a half hours outside of a trendy restaurant that I was dying to try, he went along with my manic accosting of the hostess until we were seated, without telling me once to "chill." I was very, very proud of our ability to keep it calm and collected, and above all, enjoy our time together without stressing the little stuff. Little did I know that there was a storm brewing ahead, one that I wouldn't be able to weather — pun intended.
It was barely noon when our train pulled into the Lagos station. We had been awake since 4:30 a.m., and had traversed cross-country in an Uber, a cross-country train, and a local train — and it didn't help that we had chosen to go out for drinks the night before. In other words, we were dead-to-the-world tired, bordering on grumpy. I was looking forward to some R&R on the sun-soaked, beautifully eroded, cave-ridden beaches of Lagos.
As I exited our train car and saw the storm clouds devouring the Lagos sky, I let out an extremely loud expletive I dare not repeat in this article. As the sun quietly disappeared, so did my dreams of leaving our trip bronzed and rejuvenated. Moreover, if it were to rain for our three-day stay, I figured our streak as this stellar-vacation-couple would come to an abrupt end. So, well, I lost it.
"Could this get any worse?" I muttered to my partner (but mostly myself) as our cab delivered us to our hotel. My partner tried his best to lighten the mood, oohing and aahing at every pink building or disheveled beach shack we saw, but it was no use. The sun was gone, I was cold, and I hated everything. I glared at him, willing him to come over to the dark side with me. Grabbing my headphones, I tuned out my surroundings and listened to angry feminist folk-rock instead.
We pulled up to a beautiful hotel overlooking the water, which had come highly recommended by a friend. "Isn't this so romantic?" my partner asked, his eyes gleaming over the water. I scanned the lobby, looking for people our own age. It appeared that the hotel was overrun by grandparents. I literally grunted. "Is this a retirement home?" I retorted, cynicism pouring out of every syllable.
As it turns out, the hotel was "adults only," which really means "lots of old people." This turn of events seemed to barely bother my partner, but it was all I needed to send me over the edge. I sat in the lobby waiting to be shown to our room with my arms crossed and my facial muscles twisted in a permanent squint. A hotel employee brought us two glasses of Champagne and welcomed us to the resort. I accepted the beverage and examined it with scrutiny, as if it were traced with cyanide. I proceeded to stare longingly at a portrait of Lagos that hung above the reception desk that depicted a beautiful, sunny day. I willed myself to escape into the painting.
A bellboy led us to our room, which turned out to be more of a suite (to this day, I am confused about this. I definitely booked the cheapest, smallest room the resort had. Twin beds were supposed to be involved). My partner explored our quarters, gawking at how lovely everything was. We had a tiny balcony overlooking the water, a big bathtub next to his-and-hers sinks. There was even a complimentary bottle of wine left on our bedside table! It was all too good to be true. But for some reason, the more elated my partner became, the more irritated I grew. "We might as well go home," I offered up like an angsty teenager, while downloading six or seven weather apps in the hopes of neurotically checking the weather hour-by-hour for the rest of our trip. That's when my partner had enough.
"If you want to ruin your own vacation, go right ahead," he boomed. "But this is the longest I've taken off from work in a year, and I'm going to enjoy it."
I felt the familiar sensation of tears beginning to well up in my eyelids, the floodgates preparing to open. Oh, boy, I thought to myself. Here it comes.
"I'm allowed to get upset sometimes, OK!" I wailed, dramatically sliding from the bed to the floor. "Do you know hard it is being so optimistic and upbeat all of the time? It's exhausting. I'm exhausted!"
I felt all of the tension that I had unknowingly built up over the course of our trip due to my overly-high expectations begin to crumble along with my composure.
My partner, taken aback by my reaction, adjusted his tone accordingly. He took a seat next to me on the floor, draping him arm around my shoulder. "Of course, you're allowed to get upset," he said. "But I'm not going to stop loving you over a few drops of rain. Passing rain clouds are hardly going to ruin this vacation. It's been so wonderful already — you have nothing to worry about, and no one to impress." I let his words sink in, like two feet dissolving into the sand.
"I'm going to try to make the most of today," he said. "If you feel like it, I would love for you to join me." With that, he jumped up off the floor, grabbed his swim trunks and trotted off to the pool. I sat back on the bed, shaken. His words had hit me like the unexpected slap of a wave. Why was I so obsessed with this trip being perfect? I had been so focused on "having a great vacation" and "being a great couple," that I had completely taken myself out of the moment and forgotten what was truly important: making memories with my partner.
Following that revelation, the storm clouding both my judgement and the sky began to clear. I changed into a bikini, grabbed a book, and apologized to my partner for, well, losing my sh*t. I joined him by the pool and we proceeded to spend the day doing what we do best: making our own fun. We took a stroll on the beach, a dip in the water; we discussed our future and reflected on our past.
And when the sky finally cleared to reveal the most beautiful, sunny day, I hardly noticed. Standing next to my partner, knowing that we could overcome that moment of conflict and come out stronger than ever, was all the sunshine that I needed. Even on the cloudiest of days — we keep each other warm.