I’m stuck again. This time it’s about speaking your mind. Not telling someone their hair looks really terrible since they had it cut, or suggesting that it’s time to cut down on the cheesecake, but speaking out when you feel a wrong has been done, to you or someone else. In that situation is it better to say what you feel needs saying and risk hurting someone, having a galactic-sized argument, or even losing a relationship completely. Or is it best to stay silent and wake at 3 am thinking murderous thoughts. Maybe you’re a Buddhist or a Quaker and don’t have murderous thoughts? Even then, is it right to stay silent? Doesn’t that inevitably mean your relationship will never quite have the joy it used to have.
I’m sure what you choose to do depends hugely on your personality. I’m pretty blunt, partly because I’m Australian but have lived some decades in Yorkshire (what a combination!) and partly because, in Myers Briggs terms, I’m a T and so I don’t as a rule think that conflict should always be avoided as those who are Fs usually prefer. I was once at a workshop where Ts and Fs were put into a group to discuss what conflict meant to them: Fs said it was any time that anyone said ‘I disagree’ while Ts described something like all-out warfare. Although my natural inclination is to always say it like I see it, I’ve learnt through such experiences to be as tactful as possible when I’m dealing with an F and I guess I should presume someone is an F unless I know otherwise.
Friendships aren’t too difficult. They start from the same point of time and on equal terms – two adults learning about each other without a history. As long as neither presumes the other is just like him or her, so long as they appreciate that one might be an F or a T, they know quickly how much to say, what to question. There’s no old hurts to bubble up, no lifetime investment.
But when you’re close to the other person the hurt you feel or inflict isn’t an isolated event; it’s part of the history of your relationship: other hurts, other unresolved conflicts. So a mother might feel she’s given a lifetime of support to her 40-year old daughter – emotional, financial, practical support – and got little or nothing back. Didn’t expect anything. But then the mother is widowed and feels a bit more needy and hopes – even presumes – that the daughter will spend a little longer at Christmas now, more than a dash in for a single meal and a present exchange. Might even bring her partner with her. When instead her daughter goes to his parents for most of Christmas should the mother speak up? Isn’t it inevitable that what she’s done for her daughter, for them both, will begin to loom bigger in her mind and leak or even crash through the surface at some point. And maybe it should.
But then again, the daughter will have her own grievances against her mother. Perhaps she had, as most do, the devastating experience of a younger sibling being born and has never quite recovered from this betrayal. Perhaps her father gave her endless messages that she was his little darling and mum was a boring, needy person who was best ignored. It happens, even in the nicest families. Then she too will be carrying a ton of boxes in storage just waiting to be unpacked. The somewhat plaintive, hurt tone of the mum is just enough to cut the tape on all she’s kept hidden out of sight.
So, should they both speak their minds? If they don’t, the argument will linger on ready to pop up, Jack-in-the-box-like, at the next mysterious slight that takes place. But if they do, won’t they just be dealing with the present hurt, perhaps even making it worse, while the old smouldering lumps of anguish lay there ready to ignite the next time one of them complains. Yes, there’s long-term psychotherapy for some, but what do most people do? Maybe just mess on like the rest of us, hoping for the best. What do you think?