On my way back to Scotland from a few days with my parents, and reading about the way that our parents' treatment of us affects our development, I think that one of the strange things about my parents is the way they argue.
They argue in short bursts - something triggers an explosion in one of them, there's an extremely heated argument between them, full of accusations and denials, and three minutes later everything is fine again.
came for a few days camping with me and my parents she spent most of it being shell-shocked. To her arguing was a sign of things being seriously wrong, of a relationship on its way out. I, of course, couldn't see it - to me these little flare-ups were just how things were, a small amount of steam being blown off before life returned to normal.
Looking at it now, it seems to me that what I have is two highly-stung parents who are both used to doing their own thing, completely failing to cooperate with each other. My father is a doctor, used to running an intensive care unit where whatever he says goes. My mother works alone, both at work and at home, dealing with other people to get things done, but entirely self-directed. Neither of them, it seems to me, are used to compromise or discussion over what needs to be done or how to do it.
This tends to mean that when it comes to things that the do do together either one of them gives way before they start or there are brief flurries of explosions as they (effectively) negotiate their plans and reach a compromise (or, at the least, a truce.).
My father, it seems to me, is worse in some ways, generally not thinking what plans other people might have, and assuming that as he's worked out the correct course of action everyone else will fall into line behind him. I can recognise this trait easily because I share a certain amount of it (although I'm not nearly as bad as he is).. My way of dealing with this is to remain affable and friendly, but make my own plans where they disagree with his, and inform him of them as a fait accompli. This removal of myself from his 'zone of control' means that neither of us has to negotiate and we can both just get on with things. This works well so long as we can both live with (a) what the other one is up to and (b) a fair degree of independence.
My mother, on the other hand, deals badly with (b), wanting to find a single solution which makes everyone happy rather than everyone finding their own answer. As she's had near zero luck in finding ways to make Dad compromise over the last 40-odd years this hasn't been terribly successful. One recent example being that Dad, having effectively retired, is pretty desparate to get the hell out of Kent and down to Devon. Mum, on the other hand, wants to finish sorting out a few things around the house, get some doors/windows unstuck, de-moss the path, and generally make the place look as presentable as possible for the estate agents to show people around it. The obvious answer is for her to stay in Kent and finish this off (about two weeks work) while he goes down to Devon, but she can't bear the thought of him being down there by himself and is adamant that she make him realise that this stuff really needs to be done, by both of them. I'm not anticipating her having much success with this.
What success she has had has hinged on two factors: (a) Dad is actually pretty good at working out the right thing to do, so she hasn't actually disagreed with him over (m)any major things and (b) while Dad's conscious mind doesn't compromise it seems that his subconscious does.
For instance, their house went on the market a few days ago, but the site it's supposed to be on (Your Move) hadn't managed to get the full details up as of last night. Dad asked Mum to check the site this morning and make sure the detals were there. She said she would, but asked for the password for the site, as it requires you to be logged in to look at the details of individual properties. Not having memorised his password, the computer being off and it being late at night, Dad replied that the site wouldn';t need the password as he'd logged into it that evening, and if it did she could find it in his email. Mum, being a computer realist, said that she wasn't comfortabble digging through his inbox and finding it without irretrievably breaking the internet, and could he not just get her the password?
With both of them tired and convinced that they were being the sensible ones this deteriorated into an argument that only lasted about 3 minutes, but left both of them feeling that the other was beng completely unreasonable and had turned a simple job into a huge problem. Of course, 5 minutes later they were getting on just fine, and the following day my mother was woken up by Dad handing her the password, carefully written on a post-it note.
Now, were either of them capable of compromise they would have looked at the problem (Mum wants a password, Dad doesn't want to turn on the computer again) and solved it very easily (Dad always checks his email in the morning, he'll get the password then). But instead they got into a cycle where my father denied there even was a problem and Mum focussed on that denial rather than looking for a solution. Given some space the next day, Dad could clearly see that that was the easiest thing to do, but in mid-argument that level of thought was clearly beyond both of them.
Anyway, going back to a much earlier point in the ramble, one of the effects on me of the way my parents argue has been that up until a few years back I didn't take them very personally or seriously. There would be arguments, and then 37 seconds later I'd be fine again, albeit rather confused as to why the other person wasn't. The fact that people could actually have their feelings hurt in these arguments was somewhat baffling to me.
Even more baffling was that the only people who seemed to care so much about these arguments were my girlfriends of the time. This tended to lead me into the assumption that I was adept at singling out mad people to go out with In fact what I was missing was that relationships were different to friendships and that my girlfriends felt attacked when I argued with them - the subject of the argument itself wasn't important, rather it was the arguing itself which hurt. Working through that was difficult, especially as it took several years for anyone to point it out to me, as they considered it to be so natural that I _must_ know. And I still find bizarre from my own viewpoint, but accept that other people really do feel that way.
So do I need to take arguments more seriously, or do other people need to realise that arguments don't have to be taken personally? Damn good question. Probably worth arguing over.