There is no family immune to conflict. Whether it’s about shoes left out or tattoos or politics, families fight. Siblings argue. Parents punish rule breaking…kids rebel. Spouses disagree, fail to communicate, and struggle under stress.
It’s not fun, but it is inevitable. The real problem then is not that conflicts happen, it is how we handle them when they occur, how we can let these disagreements and miscommunications take on a life of their own. We’ve talked about Bruce Springsteen many times in this email, and how his home growing up was damp with tension and resentment, which occasionally exploded into outright conflict. In one of his more recent songs, he sings of the trouble we can get ourselves into in any kind of relationship,
We fought hard over nothin’
We fought till nothin’ remained
I’ve carried that nothin’ for a long time
We have to be so careful that nothing doesn’t become something—something our kids end up carrying for a long, long time. So much of the things we get upset about don’t even matter…and then because we get upset about them, we end up saying things that do matter and can never be unsaid. We fight over nothing and destroy everything we care about most.
You will want a crowded table when you’re old, we’ve said. Well, that’s going to require some delayed gratification now. Some restraint now. It means letting things go. It means admitting you’re wrong. It means telling your kids, your spouse, your own parents that you’re sorry. It means accepting apologies from them too. It means showing them how to patch things up with their siblings, with other people.
We can’t let arguments take on a life of their own, and then risk them taking the joy out of our lives with them. Life is too short, family is too precious to destroy over nothing.