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5 years ago  ::  Dec 10, 2009 - 9:59AM #1
ArnieBeeGut
Posts: 1,407

Once my wife and I were at a seminar on conflict management in marriage. After basic approach was presented, the couples were asked to choose a problem they had and apply the technique. Since we were just learning it, the seminar leaders said to be sure to pick a small problem, not a big one, which makes sense for something that is just being learned. So we picked one that seemed pretty minor. However, in attempting to use the method, we wound up having a big blowup and meltdown instead of “fixing” the problem. Although we were the “worst” of all couples, nearly all reported similar things - namely that an issue that appeared to be minor in fact went much deeper when the string was tugged on.

I have since come to realize that there is no trivial problem when it comes to conflict. Something that is a very small irritant at first becomes a big one if it is not addressed and managed, much like a small pebble in one’s shoes over a long hike.

My conclusion therefore can be summarized as follows:

In a relationship, definitely sweat the “small stuff” - because it is really “big stuff.”

What are your experiences in things that are seemingly “small stuff” that are really “big stuff”? How do you manage conflict, whether in a current relationship or with an ex?

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 13, 2009 - 5:08PM #2
Anesis
Posts: 1,543

Ever heard the saying "pick your battles"? I think this is a good philosophy. imo.


It never ceases to amaze me what people in relationships fight over. I was no better. The pettiness of it all.....until my beloved showed me a better way. The greatest gift he gave me was his love, and the second is perspective. It was so different when we lived each moment like it would be his last. So many things did not matter anymore. All that mattered was making the most of every moment we had together.


Granted, when people argue in relationships, it is often about petty things but also about deeper issues. Let's use parenting as an example. If a couple disagrees on how to parent their children, it is not just about whose way is more effective; it could be about perceiving an attack on the very values instilled by your parents, and the values themselves might clash. But even that.....does it matter in the whole scheme of things? In the bigger picture - are your familial (of origin) values more important than creating values as a family separate from your parents?


I think when you ask "is this really going to matter when my lover is gone?" it puts a whole new spin on what kinds of things are worth arguing about. Another thing people can ask is "does being right (or selfish, or whatever the issue is) matter more to me than my love for my spouse?"


In my opinion, love says "you are more important to me than I am to me." Using that as a guiding principle, you can ask if what you are arguing about is worth the effort. Sometimes it's better to let it go. Imo.

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 21, 2009 - 5:44PM #3
appy20
Posts: 10,165

I'm not sure you can argue that parenting is a small issue.  That may be the biggest issue you ever have. 


--------------------------------------


If you have ever had REAL problems in life, you learn pretty quickly, that YES, indeed, there are small problems.   One thing is that when something horrible happens to me, I long for my everyday problems.   They seem like a gift from heaven. That is why I am grateful for some of my hardships.  It takes less to bother me than people who haven't been through as much.  I am amazed at how many trivial things people get annoyed about.  When I start to get annoyed, my mind will flash to something truly awful that I no longer have to wrestle with.  I am flooded with gratitude. 


That is why so many people I know say that their life began when they got cancer.  They learned very quickly which problems were truly important.  When they recover, they are happier than they have ever been.  I know a friend who has had depression for decades. She got cancer, still gets depressed but she is, overall, happier than ever and gets less aggravated by the trivial.  Life looks different to her now.


I know the above sounds PollyAnna but I swear, with all my heart, that it is true.  I expect less out of life than people who never had problems.  With lower expectations, I don't get my panties in a wad over a lot of stuff.  I don't have the "life ought to go my way all  of the time" because the reality is life has never gone my way. I had a choice to throw up my hands and enjoy the rest or descend in misery over problem after problem.


You can ignore some problems and be perfeclty happy. You don't have to "feel" them.   They don't have to occupy space in your head every minute of the day.  Amazingly, they are the ones that almost always get resolved. 

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 21, 2009 - 8:13PM #4
Idenitycrisis
Posts: 351

Yes, Yes, sweat the small stuff until it eats you alive like an unbridled cancer that devours you're very being, and drains you're soul until you're cast into the depths of despair. Yes, do that.

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 22, 2009 - 9:13AM #5
appy20
Posts: 10,165

Dec 21, 2009 -- 8:13PM, Idenitycrisis wrote:


Yes, Yes, sweat the small stuff until it eats you alive like an unbridled cancer that devours you're very being, and drains you're soul until you're cast into the depths of despair. Yes, do that.




I agree and when your life is over you look back and see all the time you wasted being in a snit because he left the toilet seat up or she bought another pair of shoes. 

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 22, 2009 - 10:07AM #6
nillawafer
Posts: 587

i used to take these things very personally. i was always the one who cleaned the toilet and picked up socks. at a certain point i began to notice a lot of pee wasn't making it into the toilet.  i began to think these things were done on purpose to rebel against me for my constant nagging. at the end of my husband's life he began to open up a little about things from his childhood, which he always refused to talk about. he told me his stepfather, who was a raging alcoholic, would yell if he used the lights upstairs in their ghettoized house when he had to study for school or use the bathroom. he mentioned peeing in dark and began peeing all over the toilet to get back at him or just because he couldn't see the toilet. all those years there was a lot of anger at his stepfather and maybe even mother for the abuse he had to suffer. it all got mixed up with his behaviors with me, his wife and children.


i do most of the housework and don't ask much of my children because i fear them giving up on life like my husband did.

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 22, 2009 - 12:24PM #7
ArnieBeeGut
Posts: 1,407

You all make very good points. Let me clarify what was meant.

If “small stuff” were purely “small stuff” then the adage to not “sweat it” would be good advice. However, often the “small stuff” is actually attached to deeper issues and becomes a symbol of an unresolved conflict. So leaving the toilet seat up becomes a visible symbol for an underlying belief that “I don’t matter to you.” And calling it to attention is received as a coded message that “You are always criticizing me, I can never do anything right in your eyes.”

The other element is the fact that seemingly small issues can become “big” ones over time - like a pebble in one’s hiking boot over a long walk.

Of course the antidote is to learn to not “sweat the small stuff.” And it is easier said than done! It means genuinely letting go as well as not carrying the underlying belief (“You don’t care about me”).

A valuable approach is by a woman who did lose her husband to an untimely death, and then realized that she still had nearly all the problems she had complained about but blamed him for. Her approach is called “Assume Love” and is the most effective one I have found. (See www.assumelove.com/).

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 22, 2009 - 1:20PM #8
appy20
Posts: 10,165

The toilet seat is small stuff until you decide otherwise.  It is YOU that are giving it an importance that it does not deserve.  You are making a mountain out of a molehill.  The toilet seat can remain a toilet seat until you decide otherwise.  What good comes of deciding otherwise? 


If you project stuff onto other people, you should make sure you are correct. You are putting a lot of energy into finding reasons to get mad.  I could go on all day why the whole process of you interpretation is really very self-centered and not about them at all.


The fact is, regardless of motivation for leaving the seat up, according to Gottman, people who decide that it is just a toilet seat have the longest marriages. Even when other stuff is in there.


If your mate resents putting up the toilet seat and feels like you are nagging when you ask them to put it up, the world might not end if you live with it up.    You may even be nagging.  You can get into a will game but ultimately, everyone loses.  At the end of the day, there are so many more important things than toilet seats.


The hardest lesson I had to learn when young is that what other people think and their motivations is not my business even when they take it out on me.  When people start thinking that you feel like you need to fix them, the dialogue is over.  No one likes to be fixed.  When you ascribe motivations to people, you are trying to diagnose them.  That always fails. A corrollary to the above is that you don't always have to fix other people.  People full of self-righteous indignation rarely get other people's problems right.  One thing I do in real life with people that matter to me is that I always tell myself that when I get perfect I will fix them.  Focus on fixing your own flaws and not interpreting, dwelling on others flaws. You get better, people around you get better.


 


 


 

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5 years ago  ::  Dec 22, 2009 - 1:44PM #9
Tolerant Sis
Posts: 4,201

Oh, that's silly.  I've been married for 26 years now, and that's entirely due to following a simple two part philosophy:


A.  Don't sweat the small stuff


B.  With few exceptions, it is almost ALL small stuff.


Anybody who believes that someone leaving his socks on the floor or leaving her hairs in the sink is passively-aggressively trying to hurt the other person needs his or her head examined.  This isn't about your spouse; it's about you.


You don't marry an infant; you marry an adult who has already had patterns and habits that feel very comfortable to him or her.  I grew up in a Catholic school ... I was washing my own clothes and cooking for large groups since I was ten.  My husband grew up with household servants and never had to think about the way the house looked - someone else took care of it for him.  


When we got married, there was a period of adjustment.  The house was never up to my standards; my husband couldn't understand why things didn't seem to happen by magic.  I refused to spend every precious weekend moment doing all the housework and the laundry; my husband didn't honestly care what the place looked like.  We were fortunate enough to catch on to what was going on and say "Hey, I bet this has to do with our upbringing." 


So we decided that instead of splurging on expensive furnishings or jewelry or new cars, or fighting about who does what when, we would instead hire a housekeeper who came in three times a week.  Problem solved.  


It wouldn't have been solved if, instead, I kvetched about every stray sock or pee droplet on the toilet seat.  It wouldn't have been solved if, instead, my husband had assumed that because my standards were higher than his, it was my sole responsibility to deal with everything.


And man, Chris was a godsend after the children arrived.


 

First amendment fan since 1793.
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5 years ago  ::  Dec 28, 2009 - 6:33PM #10
ArnieBeeGut
Posts: 1,407

That is of course a very mature approach to resolving conflict. And, if all such conflicts could be addressed so effectively, then there would be far fewer unhappy marriages and divorces. (Which might be bad for divorce lawyers and marriage counselors; fortunately for them, I suspect there are still many couples who don't reach that point as you did.

I believe what enabled you two to keep it "small stuff" was the realization that the differences were a result of your respective upbringings, and that neither one was "wrong" for their perspective. Without that epiphany, however, I believe that it might not have been so easily resolved. There are many couples who haven't been able to successfully negotiate differing houshold standards, and for them it remains "big stuff."


Indeed, the way you approached the conflict is an effective template for addressing many that arise. First to recognize that much of the conflict in fact comes from the baggage that each brought in to the relationship. Next to acknowledge that each one has a right to their thoughts and feelings on the matter. And finally to be creative in coming up with alternate solutions that fully meet both partners' needs, as your did.

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