Talking at Cross Purposes

digital illustrationMy spouse and I have an intriguing way of discussing our disagreements, and I gather from what I see, hear and read that this is not such an unusual complication but probably more like the norm. We don’t fight about stuff that matters, remarkably, very often at all, being on the same page in our essential beliefs and concerns; if we differ there, we’re pretty comfortable having a rational conversation or two and agreeing, if necessary, to disagree. But the more inconsequential things are where we excel in having our weirdly, even hilariously, convoluted bouts of stubbornly wordy disagreement.

And the vast majority of the time, it’s because of the language barrier. We’re both native speakers-of-English, but it seems we are perfectly capable of saying virtually the same thing to each other in such different ways that each of us hears the other saying essentially the polar opposite. It’s quite miraculous, really. Two seemingly cogent adults, people who know each other rather well after being together for eighteen years and who both know inside that we share the deep core values that make eighteen years together possible, not to mention that we share so many experiences and tastes and interests—and we can’t reason our way out of a paper bag when one thinks the other is remembering something incorrectly or a question has been raised about some puzzling matter of fact.

Of course, I don’t think this is specific to being male-female, age-related, or any other such thing, this is a characteristic of our whole species. It’s a perfect example of how humans talk to each other a whole lot of the time. We think we’re having an epic battle over right and wrong, and both sides of the argument are  looking and hoping for exactly the same outcome, but each of us simply thinks we have put the correct names on the problems and resolutions and the other party is clearly an idiot or heretic until he/she/they will acquiesce and let us superior beings fix everything according to our righteous rightness. Happens in politics and religion and academia and relationships just about equally often. Whether weapons are involved has the most influence over how epic these battles really become, but the basis is hardly all that different.

My beloved and I get in the same ridiculous rut of circular conversation often enough, though neither of us takes it particularly personally or even necessarily sees it as a true argument let alone a danger to our relationship, and it’s easy enough to laugh it off when one or the other of us finally realizes that We’re Doing It Again. But it’s strange that we don’t spot the next episode from afar and simply have a straightforward, rational talk. If the goal or solution is nearly always identical or close enough to it, why do we have to wrestle around so determinedly before coming to that natural conclusion? I can’t guess why we mortal mugs are so quick to waste our energy and peace on pointless posturing, but it’s certainly a collective talent of ours.

I guess I’ll just have to take this opportunity to apologize to my partner for my part in the muddle, and hope I learn to listen—and hear—better. And if anyone with any power or aspirations to power (political, religious, academic, or other) happens to be reading this, would you do me a favor and do the same?digital illustration (B&W)

12 thoughts on “Talking at Cross Purposes

  1. What a great illustration and post! I recently took part in a ‘How to argue better’ seminar…such an eye opener and great fun. We all do exactly what you have described! It’s only when you stand back, like you have here, and view patterns of behaviour objectively that it all seems so ridiculous…yet we all keep on doing it! It seems to me that you have ‘a marriage of true minds’. 💕

    • Indeed, I feel incredibly lucky to be married to a fella who’s such a good friend we can be stupid together and not even blink at it, just pick up and keep liking being together. No small treasure, that! 😀 The seminar you attended sounds fantastic! Something tells me there’s practically nobody on this planet who couldn’t benefit from a course or ten like it. Imagine if it were taught to, say, all school kids at 5 year intervals….

      Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  2. “But it’s strange that we don’t spot the next episode from afar and simply have a straightforward, rational talk”
    This is wonderful! I relate completely.
    Just yesterday, I had an ultra-rare moment of exactly that clarity – and was able to avoid a derailment. I hope I can remember the strategy for the next time, for there will be a “next time.”

  3. Love it! We all do it! Even when we may promise ourselves that next time we will not succumb to the need and want to be right! Even if I manage this on the odd occasion I still feel smug for backing down. Back to my meditation practice toward enlightenment! 😊 Xx

    • It’s *very* hard not to be self-congratulatory when I manage to behave well on occasion, given how rare an accomplishment that is. I hope it doesn’t diminish the good that not-making-the-mistake is in the first place, or there’ll be no hope for me at all. 😉 Really, though, given that I honestly think being dumb and argumentative about petty stuff is pretty much a universal symptom of the human condition, I can’t let myself worry too much about trying to be perfect; I just need to focus on getting *better* than I am whenever possible. 🙂

  4. The illustration fits so well with your post! I have to put my two cents in (naturally lol) and say that it DOES have to do with being a woman vs a man. Men are hardwired in their brains differently. They are problem solvers and their patterns of thinking are different than a woman’s. We have the same issue here too and I agree that it is not uncommon. WHEN will they ever get it? LOL!!

    • I probably didn’t say clearly enough that I *do* think the Mars-vs-Venus aspect does play in; I just don’t think it’s by any stretch the whole problem. We find far more than mere chromosomal excuses to differ, especially considering that close same-sex relationships, whether romantic/physically intimate or not, produce the same kinds of rationality-blindness and logic-deafness so readily as well. Left- or right-brained, extroverted or introverted, outspokenly argumentative or passive-aggressive, it still seems to me ‘cosi fan tutte’: we may all do it in our own ways, but yeah, we all do it. Fools that we are! And yeah, you’re so very right, we may as well LOL!! 😀

      • You are such a good writer. Even your comments are well written! Agreed with all what you said. We were exposed to many races and sexual preferences as kids and I guess I kind of just accept those more readily than the man vs. woman thing because I’m living with my husband and it’s more pronounced. Now I will LOL right back atcha! 😛

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