Just when you think you have the perfect relationship and you are so different from other couples you know, the ones that squabble and argue over the silliest things, it happens to you.
A look that is misinterpreted, a laugh or a giggle at the wrong moment, a comment taken out of context. All of these are seemingly innocent things that can spark a squabble that bears all the hallmarks of a playground tussle. Screwed up faces, sulking, silent treatment, and seemingly hurt feelings.
It happened to some good friends of mine when I was visiting last night, and frankly, it took me by surprise. Here were two people in their thirties going at it like 5-year-olds. It was quite a sight. The odd thing is that both of them were so emotionally invested in what was going on, they were oblivious to how ridiculous both of them were being.
I guess both of them were tired and had been working long hours, so the problem escalated in a way that it may not have done before. One comment was taken out of context, and following this there was nothing that could be said to diffuse the situation. In fact, the more the guy tried to smooth things over, the more worked up his partner got.
And so it went, round and round, until the guy finally lost patience and started throwing a tantrum too.
It made me wonder… even though we have long since left the playground behind, how much of the playground do we still have in us? The playground is a valuable tool for social development, and much of the behavior we see in the playground is a model for adult life. The interactions and tools we develop for social behavior as children can determine what types of attitudes we carry into our adult lives. Children who were bullied at school will long retain the memories and associations of that, and their social development can be heavily influenced by that moment.
So why are we motivated to revert to childish behavior with our spouses?
Because despite the fact that we are no longer in the playground, we all like to win. We resort to game-playing and childish behavior to set communication traps for our partner that may offer us a competitive edge and show our partner how wrong they were. Foolish reasoning, yes, but accurate when it comes to how many of us settle arguments. Despite the fact that nobody wins when couples are arguing, our competitive nature and the methods we use to win can come straight from the playground.
What can we learn from this then?
They key here is not to lose your sense of perspective. Listen to what you are saying. Are you being rational? Are you falling into a trap that your partner has set for you? In competing with your spouse, do you believe it is a worthwhile victory? If your partner is baiting you, what do you gain from biting? Once you have lost control of yourself and let your anger obscure your judgment, you have already lost.
The key here is to recognize when things are getting out of control and to sit back and take a breather. Go for a walk. Have a cup of coffee. Take some time out, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Then come back and see if either of you can negotiate a compromise that takes into account the values and views of both parties.
It sets a good example for others!