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Dialectics Between People


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People in long-term relationships come across dialectical imbalance or tensions all the time.  But nobody talks like that.  Instead they call it a fight, or a spat, or a lovers’ quarrel. When it happens, they find themselves in squabbles that they have a hard time resolving.  One person might give in for the sake of making the argument go away, but inside it still feels like the other person is wrong.  It can be painful for both people, and when it happens a lot can make relationships hard, just about unbearable.  Sometimes it’s big-ticket subjects, like sex, or how to raise the kids, or how to spend money.  Other times it’s smaller stuff, like lateness, or hanging up the coat when coming home, or what's the fastest way to get across town in Seattle.  The main ingredient between two people is that each holds on tight to the belief, "I'm right and you’re wrong." 

So, let’s say there's this couple, Mia and Hugh, and they win $100,000 in the lottery.  Good problem, eh?  At first they are excited about the possibilities, and maybe they muse about taking a long trip or buying a new car or something. But when the check comes they actually have to decide what to do.

Me and You

So they sit down one evening to talk it through.  Mia wants to use the windfall to build a vacation cabin in the woods. Hugh wants to save the money in their retirement account.  Both state their views.  Hugh tells Mia that saving it will be good for their future.  If they invest it in their IRA, it will grow into a tidy nest egg by the time they retire.  Someday when there’s enough money, maybe then they can think about building cabins.  "Yeah," Mia tells him, "but maybe then we'll be too old to really enjoy it. Life is meant to be lived in the moment."  And now they find themselves in a disagreement.

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Mia vs Hugh

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Back and forth they go.  Neither gives in, and neither really hears the other, and as they debate things heat up.  They become increasingly emotional.  They begin repeating themselves, getting louder and louder, like saying it louder will somehow make the other guy hear it. Each yanks to have his or her point of view accepted by the other. Mia thinks, "How can he love me and not see how important this is to me?” Hugh thinks, "How can she be so short-sighted and impractical?”  Maybe the only area of agreement is that both think the other one is a stubborn jerk.  Finally they are shouting at one another and lobbing criticisms like grenades.

Mia:       Tightwad!  You’re cheap and stingy!  Always have been!  

Hugh:    Oh yeah?  Well, you could use a little tightening.  You know what your problem is?

Mia:      I don’t have a problem.

Hugh:   Yeah, you do.  Your problem - 

Mia:     You mean besides marrying you?

Hugh:   Your problem is that you have diarrhea of the wallet.  Every time you find a

nickel you spend two.  Answer me this.  Who puts food on the table?  Tell me that!

Mia:     I do, when I cook it for Your Holy Tightness every night!

Cold War

And then it's a terse silence.  If you've ever had one of these with your sweetie, then you know how intense these fights can get, even over trivial stuff: leaving socks on the floor, or which bridge to take to the east side, or who is supposed to charge the cell phones.  

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