In retrospect it is ticklish to know what exactly triggers an argument between two people who are close to one another. There is after all so much history between such persons and putting one’s finger on the exact cause can be quite the challenge. Most often disagreements of that oddly amorphous nature are between spouses, lovers, co-habitants or friends, people who by their very nature have woven a relationship of an intricate and complicated web. By contrast conflicts with business associates are generally more easily explained as the difficulty is usually beyond personalities and merely debate over something tangible like money or services, but at least the problem is normally an identifiable source. The more personal conflicts among close relationships are less readily explained and quite often the cause is but the proverbial straw on the back of what has been an endless and cumulative complaint. Certainly in the wake of the eruption between the parties there are infinite renditions of the cause, largely directed at the other person for some purportedly recognizable reason. The thrust of that reasoning does however erode quickly when hearing the other side of the story (assuming the flurry of anger settles eventually and there is some attempt at reconciliation). In the end the normal result of the conflict is an admission of misunderstanding and all the heated remonstrances which flowed from that initial error are perfunctorily deflated. The discovery of what fed the fires in the first place is likely found in an analysis of one’s criticism of the other, not for the reason that those criticisms are valid but rather because criticism is the best autobiography. It may of course set one aback to turn the knife upon oneself but that is usually exactly what it takes to get the point (pardon the pun). No matter what the provocation in matters of this level of consternation, the resolution lies in addressing one’s own shortcomings, failing which we merely prolong the anxiety unnecessarily and further sting our own conscience, not to mention going off like a rogue missile without any hope of hitting the target.
As in everything, there is an exception. Sometimes the conundrum is genuinely founded on more than a misunderstanding. Sometimes there is in fact a problem. And sometimes the problem is not ours. It frequently occurs that the disagreement is but a symptom of the cause. We silly humans regularly confound what is otherwise the simplicity of life by muddling our personal problems with the unrelated behaviour of others. This confusion translates into blaming others for our own faults. While it might be presumed that recognition of fault is both unwelcome and inconvenient, the truth is that the task is not so easily dismissed. Indeed I have sufficient confidence in the desirability of solving problems to believe that were we to know the question, we would seek the answer. The problem is we sometimes don’t know the question.
Or what is more likely, we don’t want to talk about the problem. Problems are a bit like any other character trait; viz., they develop incrementally and often imperceptibly. Given the closeness of the relationship, the depth of the trouble can sublimate and become unidentifiable in the larger picture. We simply lose sight of whence it came. Even if we’re astute enough to spot the obstacle we seldom have the conviction to pronounce upon it (which is a strange dilemma considering how readily we normally lay blame at another’s feet). Having the courage to address someone else’s real problem is far less enthralling. Certainly there is some truth to the proposition that each of us must ultimately be the one to direct our own behaviour. But I believe there is yet room for frankness about the problem if not about the solution. To adopt an entirely laissez-faire approach to human relationships is in my opinion just short of turning a blind eye to others. Plus I honestly feel that it is the duty of those who have acquired some wisdom through time and experience to share it with those who haven’t. If nothing else it will promote a conversation which at the very least is better than dumb silence.