Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arguing Styles

I've been thinking about arguing styles lately - how I argue, and how those around me argue.

There are folks in my family who are comparatively short-tempered (as there are everywhere; there are certain topics that certainly make me short-tempered), whose first response seems to be along the lines of loud yelling (yell first, discuss later). This makes me incapable of response: I feel like a deer in a headlight, completely frozen and unable to formulate any kind of sensible reply. The attitude of "Come on, just fight!" doesn't work with me. I dislike hotheadedness.

I need a lot of time to consider things, sometimes hours, often days. (I'm a slow thinker.) I need to think through how I feel about things, contemplate what's going on, and figure out how I want to respond without resorting to dredging up old hurts from childhood. Sometimes someone has said or done something that has really hurt me, and it takes me months to really figure out, in my head, how I need to approach the issue.

During a family trip to Ireland in 2007, my brother said a few things that were really hurtful (four years later, I don't remember what it was), yet I suspect largely unintentionally so. I realized he had a history of talking to me in this manner, and it was frustrating for both of us: He may have been seeing that I was hurt, he was definitely seeing I was unresponsive, but he wasn't understanding why. I found it painful, and I decided that if I ever wanted a close, adult relationship with my brother I needed to tell him so. I sent him a fairly long, detailed e-mail a few months later. This e-mail upset him for a number of reasons that I won't get into in a public forum, and he apologized for his behavior; he mentioned that he wanted to talk about it more over the phone at some point, although at this point we haven't. And that's okay, actually; I just needed for him to know. But it took me weeks and months of thinking about it, and finally e-mailing him about it.

This is how I know I react to stressful situations; I need to write about them in order to clarify my thoughts. For actual day-to-day discussions and arguments, that isn't feasible, so the best I can do is to say to whomever it is I'm arguing with, "I need to go upstairs and think about this for awhile. I'm upset, but that's okay."

The ex-boyfriend-of-nine-years never wanted to have arguments. I didn't, either - no one really does - but the complete avoidance of arguments meant that we couldn't resolve any issues. At the very least it meant we couldn't have an ongoing discussion about it, which most of the time I'd actually be fine with. (Sometimes you need to let things sit for a few days or a few weeks before trying another way of resolving it.) I could never convince him that it was a way for us to become closer, that an argument meant that we were more closely involved in each other's lives. It made him too nervous; he was too afraid I'd get angry enough to leave him if we disagreed.

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