On one of my ventures into the vehicle licensing centre to book a driving test for my learner driver daughter I was flabbergasted by an elderly couple squabbling incessantly. It would’ve been almost humorous if it wasn’t so sad. I couldn’t escape. Under her breath she peppered and pestered him with deriding name-calling and insults; all over what I determined were probably minor issues, and he’d try (in vain) to ignore her.
When he’d had enough he’d not so gently nudge her repetitively with his shoulder and give her long disdainful, angry nose-to-nose looks, retorting with his own names for her, telling her in his own covert way to ‘shut up, woman.’ It was like being at a tennis match. This went on for a solid five minutes or so until they gradually realised I was right behind them and could hear and see this ‘match made in heaven’ endure.
I wondered how long they’d existed like this; I surmised they might’ve been married all their adult lives. Certainly there seemed a pattern in their interaction—the inability to manage and resolve conflict. This was evidenced if nothing more by the way they kept “at” each other. It seemed a ‘fair-weather’ marriage. All good plain sailing; the storm hits and bunker down!
Every couple has the same issues to contend with—how to resolve conflict. Conflict resolution, and the appropriate dealing of conflict in productive, proactive ways, seems the final frontier in marital and de facto relationships. All else flows from effectively managing and resolving conflict.
Any couple who genuinely wants peace and empowerment in their partnership best attend to the issue of resolving conflict—in ways to produce win/win situations i.e. satisfactory outcomes for both partners.
Conflict can almost never be resolved when one or both partners are angry or upset.
Conflict can only be approached effectively with sensible heads at the table of treaty.
It can only ever be sorted out when each partner is prepared to listen and fill the shoes of the other partner—a genuine teamwork of empathy where we’re not personally afraid of losing out.
Imagine the partnership reaching a place where both in it are free to act without fear and are not weighed down with an inordinate amount of emotional baggage from previous conflicts that were inappropriately dealt with.
They trust each other in their communications and they don’t jump to conclusions thinking the worst of the other person when things get tense.
They’re free to love one another, unencumbered by a world of hurts which ascribe to all our lives. They transcend the hurt through abiding trust in each other.
Anger, at last, is a personal issue—it is never ‘the other person’s fault.’ We are personally responsible for managing our own emotions. Nobody can say, ‘They made me feel this way,’ and be vindicated.
Anger, unresolved anger, smarts—long time! It remains until it’s dealt with. Like the elderly couple profiled above, it will last our lifetimes if we don’t address it. It will cling like a bad smell permeating the best of the relationship with the pungently, hideous tang of discontent.
Manifest anger: go on beyond it!
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.