10 December 2008

Fighting with loved ones

It really stinks, but it happens to the best of us. Ideally, it happens only very rarely, but many argue that a complete lack of fighting is just as unhealthy as too much fighting. Do you agree?

I think healthy fighting means no slamming doors, calling each other foul names or bringing up things from ancient history, and generally being respectful. It means sticking to the subject at hand and working together to come to an agreement. It all sounds so easy and so obvious when one is level-headed, but it can quickly go out the window when emotions bubble up. Yeah, yeah, we need to take deep breaths and pause a second before responding-- we've all heard those nuggets before. As I get older, though, and I actually try to practice breathing and pausing (and I have by no means perfected this), I see it does work.

Another key I think is important is calling someone on something you aren't crazy about right away. If someone is exhibiting behavior that you think isn't particularly kind, I've learned to say, 'That isn't very nice.' When I was younger and didn't have an easy, standby sentence, I would either retaliate (bad idea) or be stunned into silence (also not very effective).

One of my newer girlfriends has really mastered this: she is incredibly sweet, but she doesn't let anyone steamroll her or disrespect her. I think it is quite a challenge to be nice and equally strong and respected. Many women think they have to be like Hillary Clinton or generally exhibit traditionally 'male' traits in order to be successful, but many argue that a new generation of 'feminine' leaders are what's really needed.

Linguistics professor Deborah Tannen addresses this issue in her classic book, You Just Don't Understand, which discusses the differences between how men and women communicate and argues that men are more competitive and women are more cooperative. She provides illuminating and often comedic examples of how men will try to one-up each other both in telling stories and in life and how women are so determined to be on the same page, they will interrupt each other to agree. (I am still working on that.)

I guess, at the end of the day, as long as we, men and women alike, can get through the arguments still respecting and caring about each other, we should all come out stronger, wiser and better at not repeating the same mistakes again in the future.

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