Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Elements of a strong marriage - Arguing

In any persuasive discourse it is necessary to first define the terms. Herein I use marriage interchangeably with any relationship similar to that of marriage in the sense that there is cohabitation, long-term commitment, intimacy and, while desirable but not necessary, passionate love. To argue is to use logic and reasoning in an effort to advance one’s position for another to adopt while being open to other positions offered. To fight is to use force, threat or intimidation to advance one’s own will by subjugating others to it.

I gather and process relationship information from my environment on an on-going basis. This includes first hand observations of families in their natural setting, clinical observations, courtroom observations, interviews of parents, and interviews of children both as children and adults about their childhood familial experiences. Another source comes from what I feel is the greatest art form available to us for examining human relations and events -- the motion picture. Movies provide visceral accounts of the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in a way that cannot be captured solely by the written word. Movies provide a history of relationship norms over the past few generations as well as previous generations as those were recorded in the compositions of the times.

The previous paragraph contains my proposition that movies are the greatest art form man has ever had. That is my opinion. It is also opinion that Earth is a sphere rotating on a 28 degree axis orbiting the Sun on an elliptical path while our solar system rotates around a black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy which is hurtling through space on an outward trajectory from a central point of origin of all matter [and anti-matter]. It was once a “fact” that Earth was flat and at the center of the universe. I have not been to an observation point to determine whether the current opinion is correct but I find it to be the most valid opinion based upon the mathematical calculations. This is the essence of argument -- advancing an opinion based upon logic and reasoning. Thus, some opinions have greater validity. People who are dismissive of propositions in saying that “everyone has an opinion and that is just yours” are making what I call the equal weighting fallacy. Not all opinions have equal weight nor are some valid.

In my proposition that motion pictures are the greatest art form in that they can best capture the essence of humanity at any time I feel is validated and carries greater weight than the opinion that other art forms are best. Indeed our supreme court has acknowledge that viewing the live actions of people provides a better vantage point from which to make observations of their demeanor and subsequent judgments resulting from that as opposed to reading a record of their conversations.[en1]

In marriage I find that all too often “argument” and “fight” are mistakenly used interchangeably. This may be based upon the cascading effect of argument leading to fight when mutual respect is not honoured. Popular culture seems to perpetuate the confusion.[en2] Our young people seem to express an idealized view that a marriage without arguing is blissful and thus desirable. I contend that a marriage without argument is akin to two tectonic plates pursuing the same location without accommodation. The result is earthquake or, in the contractual marital terms, dissolution.

While I do not eliminate the possibility that two individuals may exist who uniformly draw consensus without discussion I heavily discount the probability of them finding each other and being wed. Most marriages are from people who met through proximity -- you marry those to whom you are regularly exposed. In the 1930’s most married couples lived within 10 blocks of each other when they met.[en3] Thus, when I hear a couple proclaim “we never argue” I feel sorrow for the lack of compassion in their marriage. Lack of argument is based upon two adverse possibilities. The first, and I find most common, is the power imbalance. The power imbalance provides that while each partner is free to express an opinion and support it with logic and reasoning, in the end, one partner has veto power. The subservient partner becomes conditioned to no longer express a conflicting opinion because regardless of how well crafted and supported the argument it can be nullified through authoritarian command. The second is that the partners do not value each other enough to make argument.

Argument requires effort. Proud I am of my son who won a few rounds at the national debate championships last year. He expended significant effort to formulate and deliver his arguments. Argument was something we had worked on since I obtained his first college level books on the subject for him while he was in grade school. We had always practiced rationality in his life. I never used authoritarian discipline or subjugation on him but instead provided the rational basis for my position which he then adopted as rational as opposed to his generally more primitive demands for immediate satisfaction. At age three he would accept my position that bright colours and characters on cereal boxes did not enhance the nutritional content of the cereal contained within but were intended to appeal to basic neural drives of children. This demonstrates a loving commitment, not to rule over but, to help him understand and grow as a person who can think logically and make wise decisions. The same is true in marriage.

Arguing to a marital partner says that I care about you enough to make an argument instead of simply imposing my way. Argument respects the other person by saying I believe that you are competent enough to understand. It says that I am willing to listen to and consider your proposition. It says that I value you enough as a person to expend the effort and time to engage you in a friendly banter over an issue.

Argument precedes advances in society. Argument is a way of vetting propositions and determining the best solution by consensus rather than authority or dogma. The status quo should be challenged in the pursuit of more viable or efficient alternatives. Marriage is a business partnership; it is the business of selling your product and services to your partner or buying your partner’s product and services for mutual benefit. So go on and argue . . . for the sake of your marriage.

[1] While we are not able to say the trial judge could not have found otherwise than he did upon the evidence introduced below, this Court as a court of review has heretofore held by a long line of decisions that we are in a poor position to look at a cold transcript of the record, and conclude that the trial judge, who saw the witnesses, observed their demeanor, and scrutinized their testimony as it came from the witness stand, did not properly understand the significance of the evidence, or that he should have found its preponderance or the inferences therefrom to be different from what he did. Kirk v. Kirk, 770 N.E.2d 304, 307 (Ind. 2002).
[2] In the movie The Big Chill, while riding in a funeral procession, Mary Kay Place mentions that they last time she spoke with the deceased they had a “fight.” William Hurt responds by asking what was the “argument” about.
[3] Vandenburg, S.G. "Assortative mating, or who marries whom?" Behavior Genetics, 2, 127-158.

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