One-third. That’s the weekly squabbling rate according to a poll released last month.
I’m not surprised, just saddened, because it doesn’t have to be like this.
I like to illustrate this with a simple situation which can stand in for nearly any disagreement. Consider “I’m cold” vs. “You should close the window.” The latter is a criticism of their choice of room temperature, an attempt to control both them and the thermometer. “I’m cold” might also be an implicit request to close the window, or an implicit criticism of the other’s selfishness, but for my example, take it to be a statement about how I feel, without undertones. Such an expression of feelings, carrying no elements of criticism or attempts at control, turns a potential argument into a conversation.
When Maude and I have differing desires, we each state our own thoughts in this way, and by doing so, our partner experiences us as more open, which leads to more empathy and closeness. Because these statements are only about ourselves, no emotional charge is generated, and furthermore, the very statement of desires can reveal to us the deeper needs underlying them. Based on the yearnings of both partners, other possibilities suggest themselves, and we can admit them because neither of us are locked into there being only one correct way. By continuing to explore and express our separate desires, we end by finding a course that works for both of us.
The wonderful thing is that this conclusion rarely has any hint of compromise. By exploring our individual desires and looking for actions that fulfill them, we reach a solution where neither of us has given anything up, and that we could not have achieved alone. I want to reiterate the transformative nature of such behavior. It’s not just better than having occasional arguments; it’s qualitatively different because of the unconditional opening up that it allows. Who needs conflict and power struggles when such a delightful process is at hand?
The poll also showed that 10% of couples never quarrel. I hope that it does not represent conflict avoidance, but instead, means that other couples have found that peaceful resolutions without compromise are possible.