Newsflash, friends. The bumper sticker is true. “Shit happens.” A few of my favorite authors (Paul Ekman & John and Julie Gottman) confirmed that, scientifically speaking, conflict does too. Ekman coined a phrase for relational conflicts (I’m a sucker for good words too), he calls them “regrettable incidents.” So, fellow humans it would be scientifically significant to identify the root causes of regrettable incidents, wouldn’t it? Yes indeedy, it would and the good Gottman’s have done precisely that over the past 40 years studying you and me in their Seattle, freakin’ magic Love Lab.
So, without further ado here’s their findings. The root of regrettable incidents are not conflicts about money (Miss and I are both babies when it comes to budgets so a big sigh of relief here). The root of regrettable incidents aren’t conflicts about family – yours, mine, or even ours (Miss and I’ve had many a misunderstanding here, so I must say I’m starting to feel better already). The root isn’t around sex – too much, too little, too short, too long, or too anything for that matter. Whew! The root it turns out from 40 years of research is kinda shocking really. The root for most relational conflict between couples is well, nothing.
Conflict, kinda like the bumper bemoans, just happens.
Women don’t get mad more often than men either. We’re fairly equal in terms of how we often we get angry and very different in how we handle it. Men are more likely to use physical aggression, passive aggression (my research confirms professional men live here – passivity palace), and revenge (try cutting me off in rush hour traffic, friend). Women, on the other hand stay angry longer (maybe forever and a day it seems), are less likely to directly express (not my world, thank God), and become more resentful than men (Dear Lord, yes, yes, yes). Women tend to remember a slight from twenty years back and us men can’t remember what had us so pissed off on yesterday’s ride.
Conflict just happens. Our reactions are, well, as varied as we are. The tendencies of the sexes are just that tendencies. Your job, men, is to study your partner (and all loved ones for that matter) and stop being such a baby and running the first time conflict happens. Men get emotionally overwhelmed way before women and when we get overwhelmed we run for cover. Fact.
Now might be a good time for a reminder. Most conflict, at it’s root, is about nothing. Nothing. So, it only makes sense men, that there’s no solution. This is good news for all us fix it types (all men live here relationally). All we gotta do is hang in there and stay connected and attend to our partner and their emotions. As we master the turn toward instead of the wimpy turn away, listen with understanding, and feel what she’s feeling, we learn how to “be there for her.” That friend would be something. Something. So, there you have it fellow fix her freaks, you’ve got something positive to habituate when, you know, nothing happened but you know she aint happy. You now know something about dealing with nothing.
God, help me practice doing something about dealing with nothing. I gotta admit I like the craziness in your creation and especially us creatures. So much to explore in this vast landscape of humanity. God, help me enjoy the adventure and understand that conflict’s simply part of it and points us upward to your Grace and understanding face.
God, help me habituate doing something about nothing. God, help me. Good…