The holidays are upon us, and for many this means one thing – mashed potatoes passed at the dinner table via seething issues and untapped rage. A friend who considers Pinot Grigio a hard drug recently informed me of her Thanksgiving Day drinking habit, which starts around noon and ends with frantic nibbling of stuffing and cranberry sauce at midnight in order to stave off the crushing Black Friday hangover. Healthy? No. But does she avoid fighting with her family? Yes.
According to Captain Obvious, most people hate to fight. This includes me and possibly every family member that’s been tramping around this continent since Episcopalians decided to check out the New World. I mean, who enjoys conflict? Fighting means all the icky, bad feelings you have are now screaming around the surface for everyone to see.
But emotions are not meant to be kept private until they explode in a sea of resentment and family issues. Who already knew this? Apparently, many experts. Because according to Yahoo Health, fighting is healthy! As Bonnie Eaker Weil, PhD, told Yahoo Health, “Arguing can be a sign that your relationship is strong and passionate, and that you’re comfortable enough to express negative feelings without fear of losing each other in the process.”
But it is all in how you choose to battle. Sure, a person might not leave you, but that doesn’t mean post-fight resentment isn’t going to grow like a mushroom in humidity. In fact, studies show that resentment issues are actually all about our “negativity bias.” This is a function in the brain that nurtures our ability to stay out of danger. In other words, we focus on bad things in order to protect ourselves. Of course, this evolved to keep us out of dark caves filled with lurking tigers. It doesn’t do much in helping us deal with people who comment about our weight loss or gain over stuffing, pumpkin pie, and 15 years of backlogged arguments.
Of course, fighting isn’t always healthy. Case in point, North Korea and South Korea firing missiles at each other. Or in the case of an abusive relationship, verbal or physical. But in terms of our own domestic conflicts, it seems that the most successful friendships or partnerships always involve people who are willing to hear each other’s complaints, despite our evolutionary negativity bias.
So how can you fight in a positive manner? Don’t fixate on who is right or wrong in a conflict. Instead, try to find a middle ground where a compromise can be reached. And most importantly, don’t hit below the belt. If you are trying to get your point across, railing against someone in a way that’s designed to hurt is going to hinder your case. Plus, it’s mean. And no one like to make up with a mean man/woman/dog/wasp. Or a defensive diva – if you don’t take responsibility for your wrongs, you’re not going to go far in resolving any conflict.
Words to live by this holiday season? Keep an open mind – and your cool. If you end up arguing over the menorah candles or the lighting of the Christmas tree, it’s not the worst thing that can happen.
Image courtesy of AMC