I do a lot of marital counseling and have for years.
My kids are grown now but when they were young, I was sitting in my office one day with a couple who’d come in for help with their faltering marriage. At one point, they really got into it and this is what I heard, “Did too . . . did not . . . did too . . . did not . . . “. I didn’t say this out loud but I thought, “These people sound just like my kids when they get off the school bus.”
Have you ever listened to political talk shows where they have “spirited” debates? The combatants occupy quadrants of the split screen as they interrupt each other, talk over each other, mischaracterize each other’s positions, and roll their eyes while others make their points.
Very frustrating to watch. My growing conclusion through the years is that adults tend to fight like children.
Left to ourselves, fighting like kids is what we do.
If you don’t believe me, have someone take a cell phone video of you during your next argument and then watch it later. I bet you’ll notice a gap between your actual age and the age you appear to be on the video. If that’s your observation, take heart—you’ve got a big peer group. It’s just part of our nature to argue immaturely. So, what does it mean then to fight like an adult?
It’s not actually all that complicated but what makes it hard is that it’s unnatural. It requires us to take numerous counter-intuitive forks along the conflict road.
Let’s talk about one of those forks.
Suppose your roommate says, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you. You’ve been leaving your dirty dishes in the sink for days at a time. I can’t use the sink unless I first clean up your stuff. Would you mind putting them in the dishwasher when you’re through with them?”
And then you say, “I would but you haven’t paid for dishwasher detergent since the Clinton administration. So you’re not the only one with a bone to pick, pal.”
Notice what you’ve just done. You’ve thrown a related (but separate) issue into the conversational mix. The chances of now resolving either of them is slim to none. It’s the adult equivalent of one kid saying, “You’re stupid.” The other kids then says, “Oh, yeah? You’re ugly.” (Use your imagination and you’ll notice both kids sticking their tongues out).
The less-traveled counter-intuitive path would be to bring resolution to the first issue before going on to the second. Both issues are important but neither gets resolved when tackling both of them simultaneously.
Resolving one thing at a time is just one example of what adults do when they argue.