Family Feud!

October 23, 2009

It seems I’ve gotten on a theme with families this week. Today, I want to talk directly about my family.

There’s lots of things I could discuss about families. For example, I wonder how common it is for a child to follow in a parent’s career choice. I wonder how even less common it is to emulate both parents, which is what I’m currently doing. My mother is a teacher. My dad is a pastor. Right now, I kind of wish at least one of my parents had been a handsome millionaire…

I could discuss how my being born first helped me to become a fearless leader early on, although I was a jerk who had to cultivate empathy for others, while my younger brother worked in the opposite direction.

I could talk about all the statistcs that link the sort of family you come from with the kind of life you’ll lead, and so forth. But I don’t know those statistics.

What I really want to talk about is family feuds.

I’m reading Malcom Gladwell’s Blink, a book about our instinct for snap decisions. He discusses a research firm that looks at 15 minute videos of couple’s discussion of a contentious subject. With just 15 minutes, they can predict with over 85% accuracy who will still be married 15 years later. Sounds like how we fight is pretty important.

Did your parents fight? Everyone says that every couple fights, so my guess is that, yes, your parents had some fights. My parents could fight sometimes, and my brother and I could fight, with each other and with them too. I’d say my childhood was pretty peaceful, but those fights could get pretty serious. Nothing physical, but they were stressful family affairs, nonetheless. Not worth writing a book about, but maybe a blog entry.

I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say this. Our family fights included plenty of the following:
1) Airing of grievances.
2) Feats of strength.

And we all took part in breaking several commandments, us kids included. I mouthed off pretty viciously as a teenager, even enough to make my mom cry once or twice; a fact I was proud of at the time. My mom was toughened by an outrageously obstinate father, so it was a minor victory to be able to get under her considerably thick skin. My parents even came close to divorce. They didn’t go through with it after an extended separation, and I’m not sure why to this day, but I’m glad for it. My parents would have definately fallen into the ‘15%’ with the researchers.

Statistically, people who come from divorced parents are more likely to get divorced. I wonder if the same is true for good old-fashioned family feuds.

On the other hand, my wife never saw her parents fight. Never. That seems pretty impressive. But as an adult, she’s been able to detect in her memories the same tensions that exist in every relationship. But they did a good job keeping it quiet, so kudos to them.

Statistically, I should probably be a lot more prone to yelling and stuff than my wife is, but so far, we’ve had very few arguments. We’re just very good roommates, and we hate to raise our voices at one another. That may all change when there’s a little crumb-cruncher crawling around someday. It so hard to disagree peacefully with Elmo on the TV. I think the few serious fights we’ve had happened during Elmo TV commercials.

The thing is, I don’t respect my parents any less for their ‘shortcomings’ when it came to resolving their differences. Sure, a good Christian marriage and family handbook might tell them they were horrible people. Sure, they provided occasional examples to me of what not to do in an argument. But I’ve actually come to respect them a lot more. I say that because I know they haven’t had an easy time living together. They dated a short time, and had a lot to work out as a “blissfully” married couple. Yet, despite whatever happened between them, they decided they were better off together.

I’ll tell you what I learned from my parents, which is the same thing every marriage book will tell you. It’s all about communication. Failure to communicate creates a fight, and a fight escalates the failure to communicate. You never communicate more clearly when you’re fighting. That knowledge has made my relationship with my wife so much easier.

Not that I would recommend fighting in front of your kids, just so you can stay married and make your kids love and respect you, but it did work for my folks. But what do you think? Have you followed in your parent’s footsteps, in your career or in your home? How do you and your mate manage disagreements, or what have you learned from your parents’ or your own divorce? What advice can you share?

18 responses to Family Feud!

  1. I would say that I've been following in my parents' footsteps… but… in a weird way. My dad was always kind of quick to anger, while my mother would just kind of accept that he was just mad, and allow him to get over it. I more emulate her, although, my initial thoughts are anger and bitterness, I normally just ball-up emotionally and hope that it passes.

    Now, my wife and I have come to talk more and more, and she told me she doesn't want me to "give up" on an argument. She wants me to be passionate about things. She wants me to argue back.

    It's out of my comfort zone, to be sure. I'd much rather just let her win. But, that's not really a lasting solution for either of us.

    Great post!

  2. I think I can say I've followed in the footsteps of my father a little bit, who has done so many different job types in his life it's not funny.

    I'm relatively young (under 25) and I've probably worked in or trained for 7 or 8 different fields in order to either give myself a better future or to bring an income in. Jack of all trades and adaptable, and my father definitely was that.

    I also inherit the temper and the stubborness and the joker stuff. :)

  3. Two words for a successful marriage.

    Date Nights

    actually three words

    Scheduled Date Nights

    My husband and I have been together almost 20 years….married 17 next week. Perfect marriage? FAR FROM it! We've had our share of valleys, in fact….there were some doozies….where many would probably walk away, but we chose to stick it out. I give God all the credit and glory on that!

    But one thing that we can chalk up staying together with is making and keeping date nights where we can reconnect after long stressful weeks. We are able to talk without being interrupted and give each other 100% of our attention. We also can talk calmly about something that had turned into a heated discussion when the tension was high.

    It doesn't have to be a fancy place, sometimes we just go grab a coffee if that is all that time, and the availability of sitters, allows. But we physically put the date on the calendar and do it, just as if it were a doctor's appt or important meeting.

    I came from a yelling household and that is one of my struggles….I seem to jump into scream mode as soon as I feel defensive. Not good. I am working on that. I do believe that children should be aware that parents can have disagreements and watch and learn how to reconcile. They need to know that even though mom and dad do not agree on everything, they still love each other and respect their differences. (and know that mom is always right, LOL)

    My husband teases me when he tells the boys that the key to a good marriage is his two words. "yes, dear"

  4. My dad used to do what mom called the "silent treatment". She would then demand that he say something, which in turn made it last longer.

    I lean toward silence. I don't do it as "punishment", nor do I think my dad did. My dad had a rep for an awful temper with "outsiders" (meaning not friends or family, but annoying aquaintances), and I think he was trying to hold it in until he was calm. I think that because that is what I do. When I am angry, I need about twenty minutes to calm down before I can discuss things rationally. I don't want to say things I'll regret, and I know that when I am angry, my thoughts are unkind. I hold my tongue until I am sure I can control it.
    Unfortunately, to my loved ones, it feels like "the silent treatment". I have tried explaining, but I can't help the way they feel any more than they can help the way I feel.
    Sorry if comment was uber long.

  5. Interesting thought occurred to me while reading this- we attempt to model good behavior for our kids so why shouldn't we model good fighting. Obviously there are productive and nonproductive ways to argue. If we hide all our fights how will they know the right way to do it when it's their turn?

    And no, I'm really not being sarcastic with this!

  6. Matt @ The Church of No People October 23, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Great advice! Jason, you make a great point. We don't concentrate on modeling productive conflict. I call it the difference between 'arguing' and 'fighting.'

  7. In my family my dad usually got angry and loud. It only got physical once. My mom was usually more calm but not less manipulative.

    I find that I struggle with both. I am working on breaking the cycle but it isn't easy.

  8. I think it's healthy for your children to see how you work through conflict, mostly regular disagreements. Like when you're in traffic, or got lost, how you deal with things like that. Misunderstandings. Now, I'm not for getting into huge fights around your kids, but without seeing how you can respectfully disagree, and come to some sort of agreement, where else will your kids learn that?
    My family was very vocal, my husbands… not so much (so I totally get where you're coming from!). We sound like your wife and yourself. Not a lot of huge fights, but I think we've combined what we know to find a happy medium.
    Great discussion topic!

  9. I should have read the comments before commenting :) I totally agree w/ jasonS!

  10. My childhood was very blessed. I only saw one fight between my parents though they argued occasionally. I have to fight the urge to follow in my dad's contentious footsteps. though; he was always right even when he was wrong, if you know what I mean.

    Anger and selfishness is at the root of most marital discord. The Bible tells us to put to death the deeds of the body, that man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. So we have to resolve to lay aside anger, not to swallow it, but lay it aside. I don't have to have my way. What makes me angry to begin with? I want my rights! I want what's best for me! But when I got married, I became part of a team and can never have it just my way. I have to decide which is more important, my relationship with my husband or winning an argument. When I recognize that anything I resent about him is due to my pride or seeking my own will, I find it is easier to let it go.

    I read a great book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Marriage. Every Christian couple should read it. His premise is, if you want to serve Jesus, remain single, if you want to be conformed to His image, get married.

  11. vanityofvanities October 24, 2009 at 3:33 am

    Well, my parents did everything wrong (one would agree with that assessment, while the other is still busy lying about everything). So I learned what NOT to do! Basically, I learned that family and relationships are not about your own happiness. You have to die to yourself daily and count others better than yourself.

  12. "It's all about communication. Failure to communicate creates a fight, and a fight escalates the failure to communicate."

    …I'm sorry, Matt…what were you saying??

  13. I do agree with Jason's observation; especially since my parents never actually argued about anything. Our family had some good things about it, like they took me to church where I learned about Jesus; but it was rather messed up. When things were problematic, everyone acted like everything was fine. It was really weird; I can remember several major bad things that happened but my parents always acted as if nothing was wrong. I found that confusing as a kid.

    I sometimes get frustrated and will snap at people. Not loud or mean, but not loving either. I've really been seeking to change in that area. My husband is typically rather gracious when I do this, and if I'm really getting to him, he'll just leave for a while. Little daily stuff gets discussed in front of the kids. Us issues are discussed when we're alone.

  14. Matt @ The Church of No People October 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I think it's awesome how all of you have shared where you need grace to improve in your relationships. Good job, everyone.

  15. I was five years old when my mom re-married and they faught so much in the beginning that I was pretty sure that they would get a divorce. However, they didn't. Their quarrelling quieted down to bickering a lot. They are still married to this day.

    I have tried not to follow in my parent's footsteps. My husband and I don't fight very often. My husband is pretty calm, which helps. I occasionally blow up but I am like my mom–quick storm that blows away even quicker. We also had advice from our pastor who counseled us during our engagement that "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you." is the quickest and best way to end an argument. We are still working on that one.

  16. My husband and I have had a couple of really bad fights — about the same issue. I persisted, because he could not see where he was failing me. While I'm not proud of a lot of my behavior during those fights, I am glad that I persisted. My motivation was right; my actions were not. Eventually, he did see, he did own it, he did apologize for it, and he has repented of it. Our marriage is stronger now because I was relentless then.

    Unfortunately, I inherited two very bad and very different tempers from my family tree. I'm thankful, though, that my parents (especially my dad) persisted in confronting me about my temper, because at 27 years old, I'm working with the Spirit to root out sin issues that a lot of other people don't start recognizing until their 40s or 50s (or never). My children will reap the benefit of me going through all of this agonizing work with the Lord.

    That said, I have learned the hard way to take a simple piece of advice from Caroline Ingalls on "Little House on the Prairie": Don't act in haste. She said that to Charles all the time on that show, and when I heed that wisdom, my temper doesn't flare as quickly or as hotly.

  17. childofchristforlife October 26, 2009 at 2:26 am

    You have nothing here about Jesus CHrist and this is just sad.

  18. Does it have to be about Jesus Christ 24/7?

    I love Jesus, too (when I'm at my best)…but can't we discuss communication, or politics, or the Chiefs, or the weather, or ???…once in awhile?

    Geeeeez Edith!!!