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Writer's Block: Priorities

What quality do you think is most important in a significant other?

Gentle nature that goes for sorting out differences without blaming or arguing. I don't want fireworks. I want someone who's easy to get along with and never insults, never harasses, never says the sorts of things they need to apologize for and then blows up again over the next misunderstanding, doesn't blame -- someone who shares my desire for a life without any stressful arguments. To me it's worth the time to stop and sort it out carefully after cooling off, to put my partner top on the list of people to be nice to rather than at the bottom with unrealistic expectations and demands.

I'm bi so I won't say "she" about that possible partner, but that type of partner could be a woman. She or he needs to be very skilled at conflict resolution, willing to listen, willing to work out workable solutions without jumping to conclusions, willing to respect boundaries and accept them for what they are, willing to accept reality when it comes banging in on a day when I'm not capable of keeping up and capable of understanding that I don't have time or strength to waste any of it on marital arguments.

I'm not passive enough to go for "just do everything their way" and that is the other half of this -- the "calm and rational non-insulting" style of conflict resolution takes patience and a desire to live with it on both sides. What breaks up many couples is that people with different patterns of conflict resolution can't abide living with someone else's pattern. A passionate screaming-arguments lover will go nuts with a sulker who never confronts an issue and be driven round the bend by waiting for the relief of resolution -- and may also see arguments as foreplay as the adrenaline's still there after the making-up.

The making up is just as real regardless of the type of conflict resolution.

Passive "ignore the problem and it'll go away" will eventually result in the other partner going away because that slam the door permanently approach does not actually deal with any conflicts, therefore either the passive partner is pushed around to the point of not being able to decide anything in his life at all or in addition to that, the one forced into the bullying position by the passive who always caves in will get tired of having to make all the decisions and leave.

Passive-aggressive is one of the worst. Two passive-aggressives may stick together in sheer inertia but will over years cumulatively make each others' lives miserable and each believe he or she is the one bullied and pushed around by the other. Pretending to agree, or thinking they agree, then being miserable and taking it out on the partner in nasty unrelated ways starts a cascade of small cruelties and hurts that adds up to one of those long but unhappy relationships that everyone else wonders why they even bother to say hello let alone live together.

I know that the quiet sort-it-out type of conflict resolution is a difficult and rare skill. It's absolutely necessary with my fibromyalgia.

Some other patterns may work out well. For passive or aggressive marital fighters there are patterns that can put a safety net on it and make the partnership happy -- two passives may just become aware of it and try very hard not to provoke each other, or have some sort of basic similarity of habits and attitudes that it doesn't come up much. Or seek counseling if it gets too hard. Aggressives can just set individual for the couple rules of fighting that make it easier to clear the air fast and get on with the passion.

I don't have time for it and if I get through one of the screamers then I don't have the energy for the passion, the flare will knock me flat at exactly the point a passionate partner wants me to be at my best and I'll be down for a couple of days with it rather than soaring on the relief of making up and feeling affectionate. I know this. I have in my life tried every one of these conflict resolution strategies at different times with different people, been trodden on, been put in the position of inadvertent bullying, been around and around with passionate partners getting disappointed at the collapse.

So the real answer for other people is: someone who solves conflicts the same way that you do. If the way you do is passive-aggressive, don't get a spouse. Get a good marriage counselor and go alone before you so much as get a roommate let alone a lover. I don't say "therapy" or "counseling" in general. I specifically mean "marriage counselor" because this is actually a life skill that needs to be taught, not something that's necessarily deep mental illness. Very often it's just the incidental symptom of growing up with parents who had bad marital conflict resolution skills and an incompatible style. It can be just ignorance, the lack of a skill that gets assumed everyone has.

The way to resolve marital conflicts is partly cultural. Ethnic background can affect it especially where there is strong culture. But most people in America don't have a strong culture, they have a bland superstate with an expectation of mediocrity and conformity which means among other things that all the negative, destructive social patterns caused by alcoholism or drug addiction or mental illness become appealing because they fill a void.

Living with a drunk is like not noticing the elephant in the living room. But why do people do that?

They do that because they needed a house pet and the elephant was what everyone said life would be like. People need relationships. They need kinships. They need a complex set of relationships and a consistent way of life -- and that makes the abuse that's familiar seem a lot safer than nonabuse which is foreign and weird on a very deep level. Learning the new pattern is long and difficult, it doesn't provide any comfort until it is familiar and understandable. So the elephants trash many many living rooms and the sheer commonness of trampled lives makes it seem like your troubles are normal and you shouldn't take things like death threats at home, getting beat up, getting picked on constantly or having your finances ruined too seriously.

That means that a lot of potential partners in anyone's life are wounded people whose reactions are all geared to living with someone dysfunctional. Those few who never ran into that or had to deal with it before are completely unequipped to handle it and so the first time they run into it at work or outside the home, wham, they will get infected and take it home and pass it on.

That means that if I get involved again, I want someone who has been through it all, understood it, overcome it in themselves and seeks someone with my style of conflict resolution -- because I do have the skills to do it that hard way and fibro isn't the only thing that can leave someone just sick of it to the point where even one shouting match is one too many.
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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
They do that because they needed a house pet and the elephant was what everyone said life would be like. People need relationships.

Ha. Well said.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It just hit me today that's pretty much why no one notices abuse. It creeps up gradually and by the time it's extreme it's what's normal.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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