Every Friday my syndicated newspaper column is published. Here's this week's!
I've always enjoyed a good fight. When my husband and I disagree, we haul out every intellectual argument in our arsenal to show why the other person is irretrievably, irreconcilably, and certifiably off his or her rocker. Early in our marriage this usually lasted for several days. Now I can argue vehemently for a few minutes, and then shrug my shoulders, and admit, "I guess you're right."
It took me years to learn to say those words. During that time I also learned that trying to resolve an issue at one in the morning is exceedingly stupid; it's better to sleep on it, because chances are tomorrow you'll forget what you were fighting about anyway. But most importantly I have learned that even if I am right, listening to my husband's feelings is more important than winning the argument.
In other words, I have learned how to have good fights.
Before our wedding we didn't fight. He agreed with everything I said, and I agreed with everything he said, because we thought exactly the same way. Unfortunately, on the honeymoon I realized that he had independent thoughts, which proved very threatening. I had to whip him into shape, and he had to whip me into shape, and we both ended up with whiplash.
Why does anger hurt us so much? I think it's because we misunderstand it. We think anger is like flatulence. This uncomfortable feeling bubbles up inside us, growing ever more urgent, until it just has to be released. Problem solved, right?
Wrong. Unlike farting, anger doesn't waft away in the air after you've expressed it. It's more like a grenade going off, maiming everybody in its path. You say things you don't mean, but once those things are out of your mouth, you can't take them back.
We feel anger so strongly because anger is a master con artist. When we're angry, it's usually a sign that there's something else going on below the surface, something that we'd rather not talk about. And we don't like that vulnerable feeling, so anger helps us deflect attention from our fears.
Do you and those you love often have the same fight, over and over again, without really resolving anything? Maybe that's because in your anger you’re ignoring the real issues. Picture this couple: he arrives home late and she immediately berates him for being an insensitive clod who doesn't care about the family. He responds by complaining that if she really wanted him home, maybe she'd make the house a little nicer to come home to.
Words are flying, but nothing useful is being communicated.
On the other hand, if he could be honest, maybe he'd reveal something like this: "I just worry that I could get laid off, and I don’t know how to support us. And maybe I'm failing at home, too. What if I really am a bad father?"
And maybe she would admit: "I feel lonely. I love the kids, but sometimes they're not enough. What if I'm becoming boring? Show me that you still love me!"
So next time you're boiling mad, whether it's at a difficult spouse or a recalcitrant teen, ask yourself, "what’s really going on here? What am I actually scared of?" And then tell each other instead of blowing up. Sure you're risking rejection, but as long as two people just yell at each other, the relationship is never going to build anything except more walls. If you could both stop lashing out, and say what's on your hearts instead, a miracle might happen. It takes guts to open up. But opening up your heart is a whole lot more productive than just shooting off your mouth. And much more honest, too.
Maybe it's time we all tried it.
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Labels: columns, marriage