People, like carriage horses with blinkers on, tend to restrict their social engagement to people and circumstances they find emotionally safe and comfortable. Pugnacious individuals are rare.
While holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year are perceived and celebrated as family centered and joyous occasions, a common yet under-acknowledged fixture to each–like angel ornaments are to Christmas trees–is interpersonal and familial conflict.
My family is excitedly waiting this Friday’s midnight arrival of our eldest daughter and her husband. Despite only 1,326 miles (2122 km) separating our home from theirs in North Carolina, we’ve not seen them (apart from Skype) since December 2012.
Two days out, minds are singularly and excitedly fixated on the immediacy of family reunion: bear hugs at the airport, as well as laughter and squabbling in the minivan as each one-eighth member of our family vies against other family contenders to inject and condense 365 days life experience into a single 30-minute drive home.
Inevitably, though–whether a few hours or days into our reunion–differences of opinion and perspective will occur, resulting in varying degrees of conflict.
A South African friend, who our middle child is named after, loved “a good murder” on the telly (TV).
Similarly, contrary to what some people, in particular couples, allege (i.e., that they never fight) it’s my family’s experience that wholeness and longevity of relationship occur only because of “a good fight.”
A “good fight” is—
-An oft times emotionally charged conversation over differences of perspective and opinion . . .
-In which everyone involved stays engaged/committed (often through coaxing or by one another’s insistence) . . .
-Despite frequent and intense impulses to flee from the associated unpleasantries of conflict . . .
-And which, persists however long until either respectful and/or affectionate feelings and actions for one another return.
A representative example is Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) angrily pleading with Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) to remain with him instead of running back to her fiancé in The Notebook; a romance drama set in the 1940’s, in which a wealthy teenage big-city girl and a much poorer, small-town boy find true love over one summer, and how their ultimate forever love for each other was nearly sabotaged by Allie’s meddling mother and overly austere father.
Toward the end of the movie, the following discourse occurs–
Noah: “Would you just stay with me?”
Allie: “Stay with you? What for? Look at us! We’re already fighting!”
Noah: “Well, that’s what we do! We fight! You tell me when I’m being an arrogant son of a bitch and I tell you when you’re being a pain in the ass, which you are ninety-nine percent of the time. I’m not afraid to hurt your feelings. You have like a two-second rebound rate and you’re back doing the next pain in the ass thing.”
Allie: “So, what?”
Noah: “So it’s not gonna be easy, it’s gonna be really hard. And we’re gonna have to work at this everyday, but I wanna do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever. You and me. Everyday.”
Strong, forever relationships are not only messy, but more often than not occur at inopportune moments of life. They require more work (fights) than one has the patience or time to give at the end of an overly crammed work day or week.
Ultimately the potential wholeness and longevity of relationship comes down to whether or not one or more persons really want or value the relationship.
In my family, truth be told, we often frustrate, irritate, and fight with each other.
No, we haven’t to date engaged in physical altercations, or, to my knowledge, rattled off a litany of profanities against one another (although I understand via the sibling grapevine that I have been called “a dick” at least once). One or more of us, however, have been known to slam a door, hurl a hair brush from the car on to the lawn, slam down hard some ready at-hand object like a glass or a book, or get up and stomp away from a discussion while the other person is still talking.
Fingers crossed . . .
So far conflict has only strengthened versus inflicted any fatal blow in all immediate family relationships of mine, although regrettably, it has effectively ended several friendships.
In the case of friendship losses, they resulted in large measure, I believe, because they chose to disconnect . . . to walk away from, and to stop fighting for the relationship.
Evidently the necessary hard work and discomforts associated with conflict–e.g., as in The Notebook, sometimes hearing or sharing the hard and painful truth that one’s being a big pain in the ass, or acting like an arrogant SOB–outweighed for them the value of having relationship.