Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Art of War

I worked at bed & breakfast/restaurant in Colorado for three summers during my college years. I lived with a bunch of other college kids there on the property, which, I must admit, was pretty awesome. Sometimes it reminded me of the staff of Kellerman's on Dirty Dancing... without dancing or pregnancies but with an equally awesome setting and with actual watermelon carrying sometimes. I mean we were a restaurant, too, after all. (We also mixed giant vats of bleu cheese dressing, but that, I'm sorry to say, is another story.)

One interesting and tragic relationship I observed over the course of my three summers there was that of the couple who owned and ran the fairly complicated operation. They had been married and running this business for a long time before I came along, and by the time I saw them interact, things were pretty bad between them. From the stories of the townies who had worked at the inn for years before me, the two used to fight. HEATEDLY. A LOT. But my first summer I was there, they didn't fight at all that I saw. In fact, they hardly talked at all except when they had to settle business. They designed schedules and responsibilities that allowed them to avoid each other most of the day.

Even to my naive and romantic 18 year old self, it was obvious that, in general, this kind of relationship was much more broken than one filled with fights. They had given up. They didn't care enough about the unresolved junk to fight any more. I know I didn't see all the history and didn't know all the details of their relationship, but the following summer, they were divorced, and the wife took over the business... and sort of oddly enough, the husband would come up whenever she needed a handy man and help out around the place.

All that to say, this was a pretty influential lesson for me in how relationships function. Although, I enjoy debate, I am a non-confrontational grudge holder of the highest (lowest?) order, and I will do anything I can to avoid actually addressing offenses or apologizing for my own. But observing the tail end of the disintegration of that marriage gave me a respect for the necessity of fights. I can say that even though I hate sifting through the mess of a fight, I recognize it as a kind of visit to the dentist's office. We do it for our own good and avoid it at our peril.

Image via my dentist, Dr. Ku's, website. It's hard to love him.

And so it goes. We (personally and universally) obviously need to fight sometimes. We will have conflicts, and it's only healthy to have that catharsis. My prayer this morning was to learn how to fight effectively. I'll say with a giant pat on our backs that Carter and I have learned and matured as fighters over the last five years. I sat and thought about what we've learned and what we are learning now.

And I made a list of these lessons and prayers as I see them because that's what I do. I'm a list maker.

  • Help us not to paint ourselves as a victim and the other as a villain. Remind us we're a team on this particular problem just like every other problem.
  • Remind us of our own flaws and imperfect nature, and help us to cut the other a little slack.
  • Keep us on topic while we're in the middle of things--not distracted by how we're fighting (sarcasm, silence and not engaging, unnecessary tears, raised voices) but on the actual issue at hand.
  • Allow us to show emotion and be sympathetic of emotions.
  • Stop us from panic, and keep us from feeling that everything's messed up. Give us perspective.
  • Keep us vulnerable and open, quickly admitting responsibility and as quickly as honestly possible forgiving.
  • Allow us to step away from a stalled fight to sort things out but to always come back to it while it's still warm.
  • Help us have reasonable and flexible expectations.
  • Teach us to allow some recovery time afterward and process the fight and see good in it.

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