Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Can You Fight Your Way to a Happy Marriage?

What we call a culture represents society's values. It contains customs and mores, along with prescriptions for how we should best live our lives.

The therapy culture tells us the most therapeutic way to live, thus the way that would most fully enhance our mental health. Of course, it also promotes the interests of the therapy industry.

Other cultures might offer ways to achieve social harmony, thus the most harmonious social relationships.

One might imagine that the therapy culture also tries to encourage behaviors that would make for more harmonious relationships. For some therapists, that is surely the case. For others, those of a more dialectical bent, it is not.

Take the following piece of conventional therapeutic wisdom:

All couples fight. Some fight fair; others fight mean. Some fights contribute to a couple's conjugal bliss; others destroy it. A good fight shows mutual respect and caring. A bad fight is laced with ad hominem attacks, criticism, and disrespect.

Thus, your goal, if you want your marriage to follow the precepts of the therapy culture, you need to learn how to fight well.

Sounds about right, doesn't it? You can read a good article on it by Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal. Link here.

Bernstein's title says it all: "Fighting Happily Ever After."

As I was reading her article, I had a strange thought. Perhaps, therapists are actually encouraging people to settle disagreements by fighting and arguing.

If you have learned that all couples fight, are you also learning that it is normal and healthy to indulge an occasional fight? If you are not fighting from time to time, does that mean that your marriage is not normal? Does the absence of fights signify problems in your marriage?

Why, in other words, are therapists encouraging fights when it is more constructive and more caring and more respectful to sit down and negotiate differences?

As it happens, some of the tactics that therapists use-- you can find them in Bernstein's article-- to teach couples how to fight fairly do involve basic negotiation skills.

Still and all, it sounds to me like these therapists are assuming that couples always fight. They are also assuming that if these couples were left to their true impulses, they would engage in some rather nasty fights.

Thus, therapists are trying to control a wayward and hostile impulse, rather than teaching that it is more normal and more adult to negotiate differences.

Why else do couples fight? Perhaps they have learned, from the culture, that disagreements are a zero sum game, an interaction where one will win and the other will lose. If that is what they believe, then they will be compelled to fight.

Perhaps both members of the couple have learned from the culture that they are autonomous individuals whose needs must be fulfilled and whose emotions must be expressed. If so, then their disagreements will very often lead to nasty fights.

This to say that if you follow the values that the therapy culture says should govern your life, you are probably going to have far more fights than you need to. It is a good thing that this culture has devised ways to take some of the sting out of those fights, but that does not make it less complicit in this fight game.

Instead of teaching people how to fight fairly, why not teach them how to negotiate effectively, so that each person can walk away from the discussion satisfied that he or she has gained something. Perhaps not everything, certainly not nothing, but something.

Negotiation is an acquired skill. So is conflict avoidance. You might take a step in their direction by learning how to fight fairly, but it would certainly be better if you did not think that fighting were inevitable.

You cannot fight your way to happiness. A fair fight is better than a brawl, but not fighting is best of all.


Anonymous said...

Why, in other words, are therapists encouraging fights when it is more constructive and more caring and more respectful to sit down and negotiate differences?

'Cuz some of us are married to women. Duh....

(kidding, kidding....)


wv: bureflos. Wooka teh bureful bureflos wif pritty wings.

african woman said...

Yeah right it's better not to fight at all but do you believe that fighting makes your relationship get stronger?Some maybe yes but most of it is no. In every couple there's always misunderstanding due to adjusting for each others company and it's natural. By the way it really helps me realizing something. Thanks for this one. said...

There are several varieties in the genus Fish, but the best known and most amazing is the Siamese Battling Fish; Fish splendens; the wonderful Fish. This seafood comes from Thailand and the old name of Thailand was Siam. Other titles for this seafood are: Japoneses Battling Fish, Samarai Battling Fish, China Battling Fish and Spanish fighting Fish. The Cambodian Battling Fish is a color wide range of this seafood. If you put two men together they will usually battle after going through a show.