In Writing

Have you ever known one of those old couples that each grumble about each other, caught in a spiral of bickering and mutual criticism? One of them dies, and, inevitably, someone says, “He joked, but he really loved her.” But did he? Or was he just stuck in a downward spiral with her?

I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Where there is conflict, there is agreement.” I was complaining to a male friend about how increasingly miserable coexistence with my husband was becoming. How unloved and unappreciated he made me feel. I was telling him some story of a terrible fight – the details escape me now – and from his sunny apartment in San Francisco he said to me, “Where there is conflict, there is agreement.”

That made me so mad.

I tried to make him understand. We had the opposite of agreement. We had nothing but discord, all the time. I dreaded the sound of his car pulling into the driveway. If he was upstairs, I made sure to be downstairs. It was like living in a war zone.

“You’re there, right?” he answered. “Why would you be surprised when a dog that’s bitten you before bites? So, whether you like it or not, you’re in agreement with being treated this way. Conflict can only happen when two people engage. Even pulling away is engaging in the dance. Because you get pulled back in, eventually.”

I was as mad as we usually get when someone points out an uncomfortable truth. But a truth it definitely was. I was participating in the conflict. I was agreeing to it. Because it didn’t occur to me that I could do something different.

It would take me years to do something about it. As I just wrote in another post, the decision to divorce was the scariest of my life. But it was the only way – ironically – to stop agreeing to conflict. The conflict got a whole lot uglier, for a while, before it subsided. But it was the only way out.

I hear from a lot of you about things you don’t like. Jobs that stifle your creativity. Boyfriends who don’t understand you. It’s painful – but extremely helpful – to ask yourself, in any situation, how you’re agreeing to the conflict. How you’re refusing to act to end it. No, we don’t have control over everything, but we have control over ourselves. And we have control over what we agree to. Choose peace in your life!

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