A and I agree on things. And we disagree on things. We agree that coffee is worth more to us than any other liquid (‘sept water… cuz you need water to make coffee.) We disagree on the show Friends (she loves it, I would rather watch a dog lick itself.)
Generally though, the only way to know that you agree or disagree with someone is to talk about it. This seems like a simplification because, of course, how else would you do it… However I also think it is important to realize that there are a lot of things people don’t talk about.
I have no idea how A would feel if a red shirt dyed all their white clothes pink in the wash, and I don’t think they would know what I would do either. We could guess- but we wouldn’t know.
From the state of the conversation A and K must not talk much about what either would do with surprise, free, Friday baseball tickets. I think it is the things that don’t get talked about that lead to fights.
Another thing they haven’t really talked about is how they fight.
“How do you talk to someone about stuff like that without hurting their feelings?” A asked me, between sips of her lava-grade coffee.
I wondered and wonder that too. It’s not like I told E on our first date that I will weep wildly and get very metaphysical when fighting… and E didn’t tell me that he will try and make himself larger by yelling and pacing when he is feeling vulnerable. We might not have said it then, but we talk about these things now.
“Well first things first, never talk about how you fight while you’re fighting,” I offered. She made some sounds that suggested I was being obvious. I laughed. It’s good advice anyway.
“E and I like to talk about productive and unproductive feelings after a fight,” I added.
“The **** does that mean?” she asked.
I explained that productive feelings are feelings that are the main focus of the argument. These are the feelings that started the fighting and can be addressed. Productive feelings are productive because something can be done about them: someone could apologize, or behaviors could change, or even language could change.
Unproductive are just felt and nothing needs to happen with them. Usually these come up during the argument process. They are defensiveness, sadness, anger, etc.… my most common unproductive feeling is that I feel sad that E and I are even fighting to start with. The sadness I feel about fighting doesn’t help us prevent or resolve the fight.
I tried to give my cousin an example. “Let’s pretend I forgot your birthday-”
“I would beat you,” she said cooly, not missing a beat.
“And I would say you’re a dramatic baby,” I snapped back.
Then we laughed. I continued, “See, the productive feeling is that you were hurt by my forgetting your B-day. I can work on being more thoughtful, I can act to make it better by putting it in my calendar… and so on. The unproductive feeling was being defensive and calling you a dramatic baby. We don’t have to do anything with that really because it was a reaction to your language and not the situation. We could talk about the language separately.”
I wanted to talk about this with her because K said some pretty unproductive things during their fight (like that my cousin doesn’t think for herself) but I think he was probably just reacting to my cousin disagreeing with him. This distinction has really helped me and E understand why things are said during a fight. And it can also help manage the negative feelings that can come up when talking about fighting.
If our fight had been real A and I could have worked on it in the following way, AFTER WE HAD COOLED DOWN.
A could say ‘I was feeling hurt that you forgot and I think it would be productive to explain that it makes me feel like you don’t care about me.’
I could say, ‘I do care and that I am sorry for forgetting. It was unproductive to call you a dramatic baby, I was just feeling defensive.”
It takes practice…
“Don’t worry, I would never forget your birthday,” I tried to reassure her in real life.
“Good… who are you again?” She teased.