Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s a reprint from 2007.
We’re a week past Christmas now and as we take down those lights and dismantle the tree so we can sit in the living room again many of us are breathing a sigh of relief. We made it through a family dinner without any fights! Hallelujah and pass down that Christmas angel.
We often pride ourselves on the absence of conflict, as if not fighting means that we’re close. But I wonder, instead, if the opposite is actually the case. Think about it this way: in order to have a close relationship with someone, you have to be sharing your true self, which the other person then has to accept. And, of course, this sharing goes both ways. Sitting in a room together as you chat about the weather and the price of gas and did you see the colour Aunt Ruth dyed her hair? is not sharing yourself. It’s passing time. And the more we engage in this kind of surface relationship with people with whom we should have more intimacy, the more we build walls between us. It may buy us time, it doesn’t buy us peace. That’s because real peace isn’t not fighting—remember the Cold War?—it’s knowing someone and accepting them anyway.
Serious as this problem may be with extended family, it’s even more grave with our immediate family. We don’t confront our spouse on things that we consider serious, because we’re scared of the reaction. Instead, we bottle it up, pretend nothing’s wrong, and add more bricks to that wall. But is this really what we want for our relationships? If we want true intimacy, we’re going to have to share what’s in our hearts, what’s bothering us, even secrets that we’re afraid may cause that boat to keel over. There’s little lonelier than sharing your life with someone who doesn’t even know you.
Spouses, though, aren’t the only ones we hide from. How many of us really fight for that relationship with our kids, especially our teens? Too often we allow them to push us away, because we’re afraid that if we confront them, we’ll find out how alienated they really feel from us, or we’ll push them away even farther. We’d rather have the semblance of a relationship than acknowledge that there are severe problems. But how can we deal with those problems unless we name them? And most children, though they may not admit it, appreciate being fought for, rather than being allowed to do anything and everything just so you don’t have conflict.
Of course, some of us aren’t in the position to open up and share what we’re thinking and feeling. The relationship itself seems so fragile that sharing may be the final straw. When you’re afraid the person may bolt, opening yourself up just doesn’t seem worth it. But I wonder if settling for the shell of a relationship is really the better course? Only you can be the judge of that, and waiting for the right time to deal with something big may be appropriate. But putting something off indefinitely won’t build you the kind of relationship that your heart dreams about. Sometimes we need to go through a period of conflict in order to get to the other side. Taking bricks down is messy, but think about how wonderful it will look later on.
Nevertheless, while rocking the boat may be necessary, it shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. We want intimacy, not just fights! So as you share, remember that you don’t get extra points for being loud or angry or making the other person look like a fool. That’s not removing bricks; that’s adding more. So calm yourself down, search your heart, and figure out what you want. Then decide how you’re going to get there. Letting things go on as they always have isn’t necessarily going to help. It’s going to build more walls. And then, who will be there to help you tear them down?
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