html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Soup and cornbread. Cookies for after.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Soup and cornbread. Cookies for after.

A couple I know is having trouble. They’ve each told me a little, and it is clear they are both deeply unhappy. I ache for them, because that feeling, that things went wrong and it hurts so much and the person whose happiness and pain is your own is also hurting and maybe this is real and irrevocable and it won’t magically be alright again, that is an awful feeling. I hate knowing that people I care about are deep in those woods. But I think it is very clear that the important person in this situation is me.

I have a very strong and sensible rule about not getting involved in couple’s affairs. Couples in pain are beyond my skills; I just don’t believe I can make them right, especially not in a few conversations. I have so little to offer, and there’s a small but real chance that having an opinion in any direction can cost me a friendship. Criticizing the partner might trigger protectiveness; not criticizing the partner might be insufficiently supportive; criticizing the partner I’m talking to might be more than they’re up for during rough times. There are a million pitfalls, and I am simply not that nimble.

Except, what if I really believe my friends could work something out? What if I’m convinced of each partner’s love and regard for the other person? What if I’ve heard thoughts from each that they are sure is the inviolate truth of their situation, and I think is just a result of engrained patterns of thought and arbitrary framing and a made-up obstacle? If I believe my friends’ pain isn’t necessary, do I take a deep breath and start throwing around all the wisdom that has lead me to my current happy relationship?

I don’t, of course. I am an avoider. I offer what I can, concern and loving listening if they’ll take it. I murmur that I think a real counselor, who could work with them over time, might be a good idea. I wish they weren’t in this. I wish they were happy and whole, separately or better, together. If they were close, I would make them food. I am confident in my ability to offer food.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am an avoider. I offer what I can, concern and loving listening if they’ll take it."

Do you say you're an avoider because (in your mind) you want to avoid the issue? Or is that the end result of your (non)action?

I always feel like tacking other couples' relationship
problems are a little bit like trying to disarm a time bomb and perhaps doing so blindly. No thanks. (Not sure if that makes me an avoider -- probably.) -K.

P.S. "I wish they were happy and whole, separately or better, together." What does this mean?

2:10 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Um, Avoider is one of five categories of conflict styles, if you go for that sort of thing. (Collaborating, Cooperating, Accomodating, Avoiding, Forcing)

I know I'm an avoider because conflict makes me physically perturbed, and I appease rather than confront people, and I skirt known conflict areas the way I would give a dangerous animal a wide berth. Also, 'cause when you take silly personality tests to determine your conflict style, I come up on the extreme end of avoider. But when I see unhappiness or tension or conflict, I make myself very still, in hopes it won't see me.

P.S. I must not have written that well. I just mean that I really wish the best for them and want their happiness. I'd like to see them happy together, but would take their happiness as single people as the next best option.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got it. I understand. -K.

FWIW, I am apparently a strong Collaborator, but I can tell what the "right" answers were in the quiz.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

What do you mean? The "right" answers lead to being an avoider.

2:51 PM  
Blogger ScottM said...

I'm good at giving support, and I was always amused at the people who'd come to me like a wise guru... then would reiterate my lack of experience in my own relationships.

I take care and offer empathy... and even a few (obvious) paths to pick from. I'm just dumb enough to put my foot in those waters.

4:34 PM  
Blogger jens said...

Sounds like you're doing what you can. Glad you are not criticizing, nice to stay above that.

Virtually any relationship that lasts long enough to be worth the name has its ups and downs. From your vantage point, it is hard to tell the downs from the ends. From my vantage point, it would be absurd.

Some pizza delivery places will take credit card orders. It's not home-cooked, but hey....

6:38 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Just took a couple of quick online quiz thingies, and I'm the anti-Megan when it comes to conflict style. Almost nothing in avoiding, the other four pretty evenly distributed (collaborating slightly ahead of the pack.)

My job is such that I have to get to people to make decisions and act on them, though. Avoidance really isn't an option most of the time.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

Tell them to go to this workshop:

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JMPP: I clicked on your link and I suspected I knew who they were. Gottman (funny name) was on "This American Life"'s episode about marriage.

They played some tapes of couples that would last and couples that wouldn't. The researches could usually tell within a minute if a couple would survive or not. Scary.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Gottman's book "The Mathematics of Marriage". He's got some interesting ideas.

If I believe my friends’ pain isn’t necessary, do I take a deep breath and start throwing around all the wisdom that has lead me to my current happy relationship?

Well, who is right? Your friends are the ones who are actually in the relationship and therefore have more specific knowledge of what is going on. You, on the other hand, have the benefit of not being wrapped up in the situational emotions that come from being in the heat of the battle.

I wouldn't fault you for being an avoider in this situation. Food would almost certainly be helpful while criticism may not be. That you would offer food is appreciated.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, what's the book about? -K.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

K, it's about Gottman's research analyzing how couples fight. He brings them into his lab and watches their body language as they fight about something. It turns out that he can predict with about 90% accuracy which couples will be thinking about divorcing within the next few years.

From what I remember, the most important thing is how each party responds to attempts by the other party to reconcile. For example, if I say "Yes, I know we are fighting now, but we will get through this" and you have a look of disdain on your face in response, that's a bad thing. I think it turned out that the content of the fights wasn't needed to make these predictions.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bob. -K.

5:52 PM  

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