It Takes Two

The complete saying is, “It takes two to tango.”  So, let’s talk conflict in partnerships.

The tango is a dance of intense passion between the dancing pair.  A marriage or partnership implies shared and balanced, but not necessarily equal responsibility toward the same goal.

The flow of responsibility in a partnership is like a seesaw.  One person takes the bigger load for a moment then it shifts to the other one.  It’s uneven at times but equitable, on balance.

In fact, one of the “fair-fighting” rules known to therapists worldwide, is the see-saw metaphor: speak, then listen, listen, then speak.  “Take turns,” we say to every three-year-old at one time or another, or to every sparring pair.

Recently my spouse and I were at the grocery store checkout and we were observed by other folks in line and the cashier, having what I would call a a moment of happy bickering. We bantered about concerning something or another that happened in our shopping experience.

I think he picked up something totally random that I hadn’t noticed until checkout where he was bagging and I was paying.  I proceeded to sarcastically joke that he was like the proverbial kid in the cart who picked up cotton candy or some such non-food-light-in-his-eyes-treat, behind mom’s back.

This reminded me of a story from the past.  After a kid, casually standing nearby, observed me and my spouse lightheartedly quibbling, I asked him if his parents’ squabble sometimes.  I was surprised that he outright said, no.

I was shocked to hear that any married couple never argue a matter.  Even considering that those parents maybe kept their rows away from their child, as is standard fight-protocol, I remained skeptical that they never heartily disagreed.

I assumed that every couple contends with one another, surely.  Having formally studied marriage and family, even getting an advanced academic degree on the subject, not to mention personal experience of more than forty years living and working with my spouse, I know a thing or two about marriage and family dynamics.

If you’re honest, and passionate enough about your relationship, you will engage in the occasional dispute Or you will avoid or ignore conflict only to let it build up and explode later.

After all, you are two separate individuals from two disparate backgrounds, with two divergent points of view on the world around you.  You grew up apart, even if you have history together.

In addition to those basic distinctions, you may compound atop them, differences in how you perceive and deal with finances, work, sex, leisure time, food, health, raising kids, politics, religion, communication styles, friends, relatives, and a vast number of other lifestyle factors.

That’s a lot of diversity, and occasionally there’s a clash of wills when we attempt to achieve unity from diversity.  About that tango thing, there are fair ways to fight and there is street fighting.

The point is, you’ve consciously joined together in a dance of life and sometimes it’s fiery.  So, there are rules to keep the blaze under control.

“And there’s another thing…”.  There’s always another thing.  But not now.  Tackle only one issue to argue about.  What’s the conflict that started this whole thing?  Deal with it now and save the other thing for another day.

Words matter, so communicate.  “I hear you,” and “I understand,” are the ultimate end-goal in every argument.  We all want to be heard and understood.

“What do you want from me?”  Be forthright and as concise as possible about exactly what you wanted in the first place without the complications of anger, frustration, past pain, fear, anxiety, dread, or any other emotion that pops up in a fight.

Stick to the point, which is to resolve your differences. Unity and agreement are the prize at the end of the fight.  Try to be specific about what needs to be done to resolve the issue.  Specificity can be a quick resolution to any argument if you can subtract the bluster.

If things feel like they’re escalating, take a break to be apart for a short time to ease the intensity.  Or, if you can, break the tension with humor; after all you’re both behaving like you’re three years old, so call it like it is; i.e., “this is stupid.”

In the tango, there are moments apart, then sudden and assertive togetherness.  And in a fair fight, self-awareness is allowed to grow out of alone time.  We can take that moment apart to humble ourselves and acknowledge our weaknesses, failures, and contributions to the conflict at hand.

Avoid the words, “always,” and “never;” keep it clean and respectful; and try not to mention divorce or breakup, the ultimate abandonment. It’s also best to fight on a full stomach and when rested; we’ve all been “hangry” at times, and it’s not the time to start something.

Oh, and preparation for holidays and vacations are lusciously ripe moments for picking a fight.  What with our Hallmark visions of perfection, peace, and love all the way around, watch out for some passionate reality to hit you square in the face.

Don’t keep score.  There should be no winner or loser in partnership fights.  The goal for partners is to be happy instead of being right. 

The ultimate goal is resolutionBlame has no place in a fair fight or in a tango, which takes two equal and responsible contributors.

Give yourselves some credit for potentially being creative problem-solvers when you find yourselves in a fight.  Know that there is a way to dance together that is satisfying to you both.  Fight fair and remember it “takes two…to tango.”

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