As a marriage therapist it’s amazing how some of the biggest fights I hear about start over nothing. What leads to divorce isn’t a particular issue or event. For instance, as bad as an affair is, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. What causes the end of a relationship is when one or both people assume the other person is trying to hurt them and they take every little comment or look as an attack that needs to be defended against by attacking in response. This reaction typically leads to a fight where both people think the other person started it while they feel like the innocent victim.
This brings me to a situation I faced last week. In the morning I often listen to CHML, a local Hamilton news-talk radio station in order to hear the traffic and news. Every morning two of the hosts that do call-in shows later in the day do a short rant. I often enjoy the one host, but this day he talked about an issue I disagreed with him on, and for the first time ever I felt compelled to send him a couple thoughts. My goal wasn’t to change his mind because I know I wouldn’t and besides, he’s allowed his opinion (albeit a very dumb opinion). Instead, I wanted to send a couple new ideas his way to add to the conversation. The following is from my email:
My opening: Hi (name), I generally line up with your views, which of course means I’m a fan… the best book is one we agree with isn’t it? That being said I also enjoy your presentation and your boldness.
My intro to my 2 points: I have two new arguments against the LRT that I thought you might appreciate and might even be able to use as a way to further your own argument (because that’s what discussion is supposed to do). Hope you like them :]
My conclusion: Thanks for having an opinion and making people think :]
Notice the smiley faces? I was trying to be as non confrontational as possible. The following was his response.
- Because ‘trains’ are not LRT.
- Do the research in places like Calgary. (I’ve lived there)
- Sorry, None of these points are valid and as I said.
- Only Hamilton celebrates when its gets ‘less’ !
- Let the new generation have its say
This message is cold with an air of disrespect and superiority, which surprised me. I wasn’t expecting a reply or if he did, I expected a generic, “Thanks for listening and taking the time to send a couple thoughts. Have a great day,” or a more personal, “Thanks for your ideas. Always glad to know I have fans who listen and aren’t afraid to have a different opinion once in awhile.” Instead, he decided to be rude.
Now here’s the problem: Like many people when we’re thrown off I heard what I felt, and what I felt he said was, “You’re uneducated and your points are stupid. Stop being so old and let the smarter younger generation make the decisions because they’re smarter than you.” You’ll notice this is NOT what he said, but it is what I “felt” I heard. This is why so many fights blow up. We “hear” something that wasn’t said and then we attack and later use what we thought we heard against the person when we tell our friends about the fight.
Because I felt attacked, this is what I wanted to write back: “Trains aren’t LRT? Um, semantics isn’t an argument. Besides, they’re basically the same; they both have tracks in the ground, wire cables above, and they get in the way of my car. It worked in Calgary? Ooooh that’s a good point because when my grandma said she loved her dentures I should’ve gone out and got dentures like her because if they were great for her they’ll work for me, too. That’s a really great argument. I can see why my points don’t make sense because yours are so great. And yes, let the younger generation have its say because I’m that younger generation! We like our cars. Make room for our cars! We keep building these stupid smart centers that require you to need a car and our jobs are everywhere else but on the LRT route, which means I need a car! The LRT is just going to add to the already terrible traffic issues so you’re going to make people hate the city and our commute even more. That’s so brilliant! And if you want the even younger generation to have a say, great choice because why not give millennials more control? They’re the smartest generation ever. Unfortunately, unless LRT is the new Uber-eats vehicle, I think the younger generation is just fine because they dream of owning a fancy car and not using public transit. But either way it doesn’t matter because they’re too busy living in their parent’s basements playing video games or taking selfies pretending they have exciting lives when they’re miserable.
Fortunately, I did NOT send this; I wanted to, but I didn’t. This is, however, a great example of how something starting off with a good intention like my first email can be blown up to a massive fight where, if we lived together, we wouldn’t talk to each other for a week.
I’ve been working on my communication skills and properly handling my anger for the last twelve years, but I was ready to unload on him. It felt like he took something simple and then turned around and punched me in the face. But again, that’s because I heard what I felt. I took a small thing and made it much bigger, which is what we all do in a fight. We minimize what we did and maximize how terrible the other person was. This is why it is often best to not respond to a message right away, and when you’re married, it’s best to avoid texting because at least with a face it can reduce some of the feelings that affect what you hear. It’s also important to work at our own self awareness and self acceptance in order to limit negative feelings affecting what we hear. Ultimately, we need to remember that people don’t typically want to hurt us, and if they do, they’re being a jerk, and engaging in a conversation isn’t worth our time and energy. Defending ourselves never leads to anything good, especially if our defense is an attack.
This week may you learn how to better reduce the chance of an unnecessary fight.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people