Couples’ contrasting assumptions lead to conflict
Question: My wife and I sometimes get into fights when neither of us really wants to argue. I’m not even sure how it happens. We just find ourselves locking horns and then feeling bad about it later. Why can’t we get along even when we want to?
Dobson: To answer that question I would need to know more about the circumstances that set off the two of you. The best I can do is describe one of the most common sources of conflict between people who are committed to each other. I call it experiencing “differing assumptions.”
When husbands and wives engage each other in angry combat, they often feel hurt, rejected and assaulted by the other person. But when these battles are analyzed objectively, we often see that neither side really meant to wound the other. The pain resulted not from intentional insults, but from the natural consequences of seeing things from a different angle.
For example, a man might assume that Saturday is his day to play golf or watch a game on television because he worked hard all week and deserved a day off. Who could blame him? But his wife might justifiably assume that he should take the kids off her hands for a few hours because she’s been wiping runny noses and changing diapers all week long. She deserved a break today and expected him to give it to her. Again, it’s a pretty reasonable assumption. When these unique perspectives collide, about 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, the sparks start to fly.
How can you avoid the stress- es of differing assumptions at home? By making sure that you and your wife get no surprises. Most of us can cope with anything if we see it coming in time.
My 6-year-old has suddenly become sassy and disrespectful in her manner at home. She told me to “buzz off” when I asked her to take out the trash, and she calls me names when she gets angry. I feel it is important to permit this emotional outlet, so I haven’t tried to suppress it. Do you agree?
Dobson: I’m afraid I don’t. Your daughter is aware of her sudden defiance, and she’s waiting to see how far you will let her go. If you don’t discourage disrespectful behavior now, you can expect some wild experiences during the adolescent years to come.
With regard to your concern about emotional ventilation, you are right in saying your daughter needs to express her anger. She should be free to say anything to you provided it is said in a respectful manner. It is acceptable to say, “I think you love my brother more than me,” or “You weren’t fair with me, Mommy.”
There is a thin line between what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior at this point. The child’s expression of strong frustration, even resentment and anger, should be encouraged if it exists. You certainly don’t want her to bottle it inside. On the other hand, you should not permit your daughter to resort to name-calling and open rebellion. “Mom, you hurt my feelings in front of my friends,” is an acceptable statement. “You stupid idiot, why didn’t you shut up when my friends were here?!” is obviously unacceptable.
If approached rationally as described in the first statement, it would be wise for the mother to sit down and try to understand the child’s viewpoint. She should be big enough to apologize to the child if she was wrong. If she feels she was right, however, she should calmly explain why she reacted as she did and tell the child how they can avoid a collision next time.
It is possible to ventilate feelings without sacrificing parental respect, and the child should be taught how to do it. This communication tool will be very useful later in life, especially in a possible future marriage.