Since my daughter was born, there’s really no need for me to visit my mother’s house. Me. Not my daughter. I could just drive by and let Zoe out, and those two peas in a pod would be fine and dandy. But I don’t. I usually go in and hang as long as I can before they start becoming ultra obnoxious followed by completely ignoring me. When the shut out phase of the day starts, I thumb through my mom’s magazines and hope for some distraction.
Consumer Reports? Snooze. Rolling Stone? A shadow of it’s old self. The Miami Herald. Yawn. Real Simple? Ok, I’ll bite.
Last month, there was an article called “10 Things Your Mother Never Taught You” (insert your own personal mom joke here), and I have to tell you, it resonated with me. One section in particular about “How to Fight Right,” was particularly illuminating.
I don’t love to fight, but I will. I don’t shy away from it, for the most part. Fighting with my ex-husband was futile, so we just ignored each other for days, weeks, years. I’m not game to do that any more but I am also not exactly the most rational fighter. I’m emotional. Dramatic. I like big fights and bigger make ups. My entire frame of reference is either my parents (let’s let that sleeping dog, well, sleep) or Grey’s Anatomy. So, my fight-style is clearly not rational.
This article said “The way a conflict discussion begins determines how it is going to end 96 percent of the time.” This is attributed to John Gottman, Ph.D. and cofounder of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, which studies marriage and relationships. He has observed over 3,000 couples over 30 years, in a lab setting while monitoring their vital stats and other physical signs of stress (what a job).
He says it’s not about the number of fights, but the techniques used in the fights that are important. He claims that contempt is the best predictor of divorce and get this “so take note if your signature move is dismissive eye rolling, personal attacks and the silent treatment.” Hello!
I don’t think I’m a personal attacker. Only if pushed really, really far. That said, the other no-no’s are my specialties! My go-to fight tactics! What’s a girl to do? Eye-rolling used to get me in a lot of trouble with my mother. So much so, her BFF Elena used to tell me “Roll your eyes at me, not at your mom.” Funny, because my ex used to say that my mom, my aunt, my grandmother and I all had this “sideways eye roll” that was a sign of the devil. He should know.
So what do we do with that? Dr. G says that starting a conversation gently is the key to ending it well. Instead of “I effing hate you, I want to punch you in the throat every time you do that!!!” it should be “I am finding it hard to understand why you made that choice? Please explain it to me.” I’m improving already! Another tip is to listen with the same amount of passion you have for being heard. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
Finally, Dr. Gottman says that if you find yourself in a crazy frenzy (I’m paraphrasing here), racing heart, sweaty palms, seeing red, – stop the fight. Call a cease fire, a ‘fightus interruptus,’ if you will. Apparently stress hormones prohibit your brain from working the right way and prohibit your ability to control impulses. He specifically says “in the lab and in therapy sessions, when people take a break, go back to their baseline heart rates, and start the conversation again, it’s like they had a brain transplant.”
Brain transplant coming right up!
So what do we make of this? I was programmed to not fight. Conflict is bad. You must get along at all costs. But here’s the thing, you don’t. You never do. There’s always something you’re going to be on opposite sides of the fence about. Could you modify your behavior to start gently, discuss maturely, avoid red flags like eye rolling, and be able to stop yourself if you got into a danger zone?
I am not sure I can. I have had one terse conversation with my significant other since reading this Real Simple article, and it all went out the window. Sort of. I think it’s really hard to change old habits. I think we revert to whatever we need to in order to survive. It’s funny that a person who communicates for a living, would have issues with something like this, but when your heart’s involved, all bets are off.
I will try to rise above and fight fair, when the need presents itself, because I care about what happens.
Is it really that simple?