All couples fight over bogus issues some of the time, and often with great intensity. I will never forget last Saturday when one of my neighbors Mary and john stormed into my house yelling at each other. I was shocked and thought they were coming for me. Just before I recovered from the shock, they said in a chorus “Edna we need help.”
There in my sitting room they sat, quarrelling bitterly whether they would go to “Club undecided “or “Ujamaa”(famous joints in the town) that evening. Each of these intelligent people put forth the most compelling arguments regarding the relative merits of “club undecided” or “Ujamaa” and neither would give in an inch.
I could not help but burst into laughter. The couple was being funny. This is because they have been visiting the two places ever since. On the contrary this particular day, it becomes the subject of conflict. Goodness! They were undecided in deed. They were shocked to see me laughing and thought I was trivializing the matter. “Edna these is very serious, “Mary said as she broke down into tears.
She made countless accusation against John: taking her for granted, wanting things always done his way.… John could not hesitate either to unleash numerous accusation against Mary. I let them talk as I listened patiently. After each had said what he/she had to, they kept quiet and looked at each other remorsefully.
I was not quite certain how to be useful to this couple because am not a marriage counselor, but I did know one thing for sure: The emotional argument that I was witnessing between two people who were obviously in a great deal of pain had nothing to do with the respective value of the two joints in town.
I looked at them and wondered what took them so long to realize the real problem? It was clear to me that there was luck of communication in that relationship. That is they were not expressing their feelings precisely and now it had all bottled to a fight in the name of two pubs.
Identifying the real issue in a relationship is no easy matter. It is particularly difficult among family members, because when two adults have conflict, they often bring a third party (perhaps a child or an in-law) which makes it even harder for the two people involved to work out and identify their problems. The third party may not necessarily be someone, it can be anything. In the case of John and Mary it was the two pubs.
For example a wife says to her husband, “Your mother is driving me crazy. She is intrusive and controlling and she treats you like you are her husband and little boy all wrapped up in one.” The real issue not addressed is: “I wish you could be more assertive with your mother and set some limits. Sometimes I wonder if your primary commitment is to her or to me.”
Underground issues from one relationship or context invariably fuel our fires in another. When we are aware of these processes, we can pay our apologies to the misplaced target of our anger and get back on course: “I am sorry I snapped at you, but I had a terrible day with my supervisor.”
Sometimes, however, we are not aware that we are detouring strong feelings of anger from one person to another or that underground anxiety from one situation is popping up as anger somewhere else. It is not simply that we shift a feeling from one person to another; rather we reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair.
For instance if Mary and John had continued to direct their anger on the two pubs,(club Undecided and Ujamaa) they would have felt less anxious about the life cycle issues in their marriage. In all likelihood, they would not have identified and spoken to the real emotional issues at all. That is taking each other for granted.
Women always have a greater exaggerated fear about rocking the boat in a relationship with a man. Thus we are likely to avoid direct confrontation and instead divert our anger through the relationship with less powerful person, such as a child or another woman.
WORDS BY: EDNA IPALEI