In an institution demanding maturity for its success, marriage and romantic partnership is not just an institution but a process for revealing our immaturities and inadequacies. And we’re all revealed; marriage, just like parenting, undoes even the most together of people.
And if there’s one area where the undoing takes place it’s in the pettiness we either insist upon or put up with.
Pettiness Begets Pettiness
Much like any common relational sin, when one begins being petty, drawing in unimportant issues or those irrelevant to the discussion, dissuading the focus of the gathering conflict, it’s a hidden invitation for the other are join in. It’s like, ‘If you’re allowed to bring in such superfluous things, so am I!’ And so begins the one-upmanship.
What happens here, of course, is that one slinks back into the child state and unconsciously invites the other to join them, fighting as if they were eight-year-olds scrapping on the floor. It resembles a tennis match, as each has their turn at sending a winner past their opponent (their partner).
Yet, this is one game where there are no winners. Even if one wins the stoush, the relationship loses.
The only way such conflict stops is when one partner refuses to partake in issues of irrelevant or unimportant pettiness. They refuse to become intimidated. And in that, they’re the ones that redeem the adult power; though it seems they’re giving in, so long as they refuse to become upset, they’ve won, because the relationship has been relieved of falling into the ridiculous.
Insisting Upon Or Putting Up With
The aggressor and the submitter do themselves and their marriages few favours by behaving the way they do. When people insist on their pettiness they constrict any room the relationship would have of harmony, because of their selfishness. When people put up with others’ pettiness they, too, do their relationships no favours; they’re allowing the setting of, or maintaining of, dangerous precedents.
The midway between the aggressor and the submitter is the asserter. They quietly refuse to partake in the irrelevant, sticking on-point themselves, whilst calling the other to gentle account—to justify actual things said; to ensure the taking of adult responsibility. And that’s all that’s required; patiently staying on track and being respectful, and climbing above the temptation to lose patience.
It only takes one patient, resilient asserter in a marriage, one that wisely steers conflict from the rocks into safe waters, by staying calmly and respectfully on point, and noting before things get out of control to weigh anchor, to deal with an irrational partner. (And we all present as irrational from time to time.)
Pettiness takes the best of marriages and relationships and reduces them to a schoolyard level in a flash. Staying on point, and keeping to what’s relevant, is a discipline of the patient asserter, one who resists the temptation to fight dirty and maintains respect.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.