Fight Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee?

According to the article Can This Marriage Be Saved? sixty-nine percent of marital conflicts are never resolved. Sixty-nine percent! This is an alarmingly high number, and it sheds some light on why forty to fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. But the question still remains: why are all of these marital conflicts not being resolved?

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist quoted in Can This Marriage Be Saved?, attributed unresolved conflicts to communication, or lack thereof. Dr. Gottman states that couples who resolve arguments tend to communicate nicely. They deliver their complaints with less of a blow (think flyweight boxing verses heavyweight). Meanwhile, couples who don’t communicate never resolve their discrepancies, thus leading to the eventual demise of the relationship.

While Dr. Gottman clearly pinpoints the main ingredient (communication) for relationship longevity, I felt it needed to be expanded. Why, exactly, are these couples not communicating? How are they fighting so that nothing is being resolved?

I took to the streets, pen in hand (and depending on the neighborhood, mace can in my other hand) and began surveying married couples. The question posed: when you and your spouse fight, how does he (or she) act?

A surprising discovery was not simply the lack of communication. Most did indeed communicate. However, they all had unique fighting styles. The categories are listed below.

The Convincers – also known as Verbal Gymnasts, the Convincers have the innate ability to convince you that you’re the one who is wrong. They stop at nothing to convince you, so arguments generally last for hours. Whether it is pure exhaustion – or they are finally persuaded – spouses of Convincers usually throw in the towel and eventually declare they were wrong.

The Clammer Uppers – these spouses stop talking because they are so overwhelmed with emotions they simply shut down. (Or they fear saying something they will really regret.) Some people call this  “the silent treatment.” Did she hear you apologize? Your guess is as good as mine, because if she did hear you, you would never know. Convincers love Clammer Uppers because they can continue to convince with no interruptions.

Taker Offers – similar to the Clammer Uppers but with more energy. The Taker Offers will physically leave the premises of the fight. This may mean storming out of the house or restaurant. If enclosed in a car, Taker Offers have been known to shove the offending person out of the car and drive off, leaving the spouse stranded.

Reactors – you’re mad because she’s mad.

“Now I’m in a bad mood too. Here I was, just watching the game and enjoying my beer, but now it’s ruined because you’re mad at me again.”

The mood of Reactors seems to be contingent upon the mood of the spouse.

Directors – tell their spouse what she or he needs to do to end the fight. Apology insincere? Who cares! Fight is over! Let’s go out for dinner already! Convincers and Directors could NEVER be married to one another. The Convincer would be too busy trying to convince the Director, while the Director would be too busy telling the Convincer what he needs to do in order to conclude the argument.

Moper – a personification of Eeyore, the Moper will throw the biggest pity party of the century. The Moper has a fighting style similar to that of the Convincer, but much more pathetic.

 “I know I forgot your birthday again. I’m so dumb. I’m the worst husband ever. You should never have married me. Other husbands would have remembered your birthday. You can go marry them. I deserve it.”

Mopers and Directors make great couples. A Director would simply tell the Moper what needs to be done to soothe things over.

“You’re right! I should go out and marry someone else. Now, let’s go shoe shopping because you’re buying me five pairs of shoes and you’re going to love every second of it. Got it?”

Conversely, Mopers and Reactors would never make it. Once the Moper turned all mopey, so would the Reactor.

“You’re right. You are so dumb for forgetting my birthday again. And I’m dumb for marrying you. We’re both two dumb people. And now I’m too depressed to go find another husband.”

The last fighting style identified was the Rehasher. During an argument, a Rehasher will suddenly bring up issues (issues you thought were resolved) from the past. Similar to Mohammad Ali’s famous phantom punch that abruptly ended the boxing match with Sonny Liston by knock out, the Rehasher will verbally strike their unknowing spouse, leaving them stunned. Bewildered. Speechless.

“I forgot to take out the garbage? Well! At least I didn’t back the car into a telephone pole.”

“That was five years ago!”

“Maybe it was, but my not taking out the garbage didn’t cost us a $500 deductible, now did it?”

To take Dr. Gottman’s expertise a smidgen further, it appears couples may not be communicating because of their fighting styles. How can a Moper talk things out with a Reactor when both turn sullen? Or a Director communicate with a Convincer with they are talking over each other?  As Leo Tolstoy said, “what counts in making a happy marriage, is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”

References: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

New Awareness Months

Awareness months are all the rage. For every month of the year, it seems like one organization or another wants us of to be mindful of a certain illness, social problem, or hobby. Take the month of September, for example. The ninth month of the year is host to prostate, thyroid, and ovarian cancer awareness. August is motorsports, cataract and psoriasis (patches of red, flaky skin) awareness month. October is breast cancer, cholesterol, disability employment, vegetarian and influenza awareness month. Meanwhile November makes us aware of lung cancer, long term care, veganism and Alzheimer’s disease. (Click HERE and HERE for proof.)

There are even months dedicated for animal awareness, with September being National Chicken Month, and March Adopt-A-Rescued-Guinea Pig month. Because February is Pet Dental Health month, we will remember to check our cat and dog’s chompers. (Don’t believe me? CLICK HERE.)

While I understand the calendar is getting full of our need to be aware of so many diseases (and animals), I can’t help but feel that some issues have been neglected. Take Delusions of Grandeur for example. This is the belief that you are more wonderful and powerful than you really are. Meaning, you think you’re great, but others do not. Perhaps if there was a delusions of grandeur month, people would understand why that guy in the office is so obnoxious and self-centered.

April should help make us aware of Asymmetriphobia. This is the pervasive fear of lopsided, uneven things. People who suffer from assymmetriphobia will never be caught wearing mismatched socks. They may also spend a painstakingly long time hanging a picture frame to make sure it’s just right. Asymmetriphobia month would help us be a tad more patient with the family member who spends nine hours decorating a Christmas tree because the ornaments have to be evenly distributed. It might just help one of us to pause a moment and think, “Now wait a second. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep knowing the dishes in my cabinets aren’t evenly stacked!”

Napkin On The Lap month would be huge. Placing your napkin on your lap while eating is not only proper, it saves people from having to see whatever schmutz you just wiped off your face. Putting napkins on laps during meals seems to be a lost etiquette. Let’s make people aware it exists and bring it back, shall we?

Having lived in a neighborhood with dog owners, I know first hand the intense frustration of finding dog doo on my lawn when I don’t even own a dog. Hence, a Pick-Up After Your Dog awareness month is an absolute must. Pet stores could seize this moment by offering discounts on pooper scoopers and waste bags. Additionally, very creative bumper stickers could be designed to inform others this important month exists. (Perhaps, instead of awareness ribbons, there would be awareness dog … well, you know.)

Lastly, the month of February could be Shopping Cart In The Middle Of The Aisle awareness month. What better to pair with Valentines Day than to be mindful of leaving your grocery cart smack dab in the middle of the aisle so it blocks everyone? For twenty-eight days (except for leap year, where it would be a blissful twenty-nine days) we wouldn’t have to say,

“Excuse me? Um … excuse me? But I can’t get by. Would you mind moving your cart over just a bit?”

to the shopper who is ruminating over the prices of competing pasta brands.  (I’ll be honest here – I am one of those really annoying shoppers who gets easily distracted and drifts down the aisle, leaving my cart in everyone’s way.)

Since there is Stress Awareness Month (April), National Asparagus Month (May) and Get To Know an Independent Realtor Month (February), I think Shopping Cart In The Middle Of The Aisle, Delusions of Grandeur, Asymmetriphobia, Pick Up After Your Dog and Napkin On The Lap awareness months could very well be a success.

I Want To Go Home

Her name was Mary and she was dying. I was the social work intern, fumbling my way through situations I had mistakenly assumed I could handle.

“I want to go home,” Mary told me during our first visit.

She resembled an Auschwitz victim. The cancer had ravaged her body, leaving her nothing more than soft skin hanging from delicate bones. She looked small and vulnerable in the hospital bed. Her frame barely made a dent in the mattress.

I knew Mary could never go home. She wasn’t strong enough to stand unassisted, let alone walk. Plus, there was no one to care for her even if she could return home. The only family she had was a son who lived in the mid-west. She would have to remain in the hospital until the end.

“Tell me about your home,” I said.

Briefly, Mary’s eyes brightened. She spoke of the small brick cape she had worked so hard to save for and buy. In that house she raised her son, alone. Her husband left her early in their marriage for someone else.

“I was a single mom,” she said, the expression on her face pained from the memory of her husband’s betrayal and not the cancer, “It was so hard.”

Her lips twitched into a smile, “But Robert went to medical school. He’s a surgeon now.” Her smile reflected a mother’s pride.

Later that afternoon I attempted to reach Mary’s son. I left messages with the receptionist at his office, and then tried his nurse. When he never returned my calls, I phoned his house. Robert’s wife answered.

“We’re so sad about Mary,” she said.

“Robert needs to see her … soon. She is failing.” I explained.

“But he can’t,” she said, “He is too busy.” She paused briefly before continuing, “And he doesn’t want to see her like that.”

I knew this was a social worker’s golden opportunity. This was my chance to use the questions and tactics I had learned to explore Robert’s fear of seeing his dying mother. I had read countless of pages on avoidant behavior. I should have known exactly how to respond.

But words escaped me. Instead, I grieved for Mary – lying alone in her hospital bed with only the hospital staff and Hospice workers to bring her comfort.

“He may never see her again alive,” I said bluntly.

Robert’s wife promised to relay my message.

The following day a friend of mine and I were walking to class. I spotted an array of colorful autumn leaves covering the ground. I remembered Mary saying she loved the fall and missed the foliage it brought. Her window in the hospital looked out at the concrete of a neighboring building.

Frantically, I started gathering leaves. My friend paused.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“My patient,” I said, “She misses the color of fall.”

“That’s the saddest thing I have ever heard.” My friend began to pick up leaves. “Here. Here is a yellow one. And red. She has to have a red leaf.”

The next morning I brought my armful of leaves to Mary. Her lids were closed and when I whispered her name, she struggled to lift them.

“Mary, look,” I whispered, holding the leaves up, “I brought Autumn to you.”

Slowly, Mary smiled and I took her hand in mine. Together we sat in silence, and looked at the colors of fall.