Ever wonder why you fight? A recent patient interaction illustrates a common reason-
The visit was for a physical. His form stated his marital status as “divorced” so I asked him about it. They had been married for 26 years. It had not always been wonderful, but he thought they were making progress. A few months prior to the visit he went for a week long trip, and when he returned she was gone, packed up and moved back in with her parents. No real reason as far as he could tell. They had discussed “it” many times, yet he still wasn't sure what had happened.
I wasn't sure how to help him understand, so I simply did what Family Doctors are trained to do. We are taught that common things occur commonly, so I looked for a common cause of "unexplained" conflict. Frequently, sudden decisions are emotional decisions, so I ventured a guess- maybe she just felt really unhappy and didn't know why.
“Some people are very emotional, and just feel things," I said, "the feeling is so strong that they just believe it, and then afterwards work to develop an explanation for the feeling. If you try to rationally show them why their explanation doesn't make sense, they may not be able to let go of the feeling. Instead they will just come up with another explanation, and then another. Since they feel it so strongly, they are sure it must be true. Maybe she just felt really unhappy, and you were blamed.”
“THAT'S IT! YOU NAILED IT!” He replied.
While diagnosing the cause of the conflict was easy, providing a cure for such conflicts is not. How do you deal with conflict that is based in emotions? The key is to realize it is an emotional conflict and to learn that emotions can't always be trusted.
A question I often ask people who seem to be driven by emotions in this- “Is it possible to feel something strongly and believe something deeply and be wrong?” Almost everyone answers "yes," but then is stumped by the follow up question, “So how do you know when you are right?” If we can't trust our feelings, what do we trust?
Stories such as this patient's lead to me to reflect on my own marriage and how we have been able to avoid such conflicts. I think it might be because as people of faith we believe that our own thoughts and emotions are inherently flawed and untrustworthy. We naturally question our feelings and measure them by an external standard. (As Christians, it the teachings of the Bible that provide us with a standard.)
For people who have no such external compass, no standard by which their thoughts can be measured, resolution is much more difficult. When spouses disagree it devolves into an argument about which person is “right” and which person is “wrong.” The dispute is either “won” by the better debater, or by the person whose feelings are the strongest. Most often, no one wins and the conflict is never fully resolved.
Personally, I have learned that when I start from a place of "Maybe feelings are wrong," agreement is less elusive, and arguments and conflict can be avoided. (Of course if I start with “I am wrong and she is right” there is no argument at all!) Next time you have a conflict, don't automatically trust your feelings. Question your emotions, and challenge your thoughts. You may be surprised.
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