Families who Fight may be Healthier Than Families who Don’t
I slip on a pair of pants and fasten the button at the waist. They fit perfectly, which is a miracle. I am shaped weird and it’s hard to find pants that fit me. This pair I snagged from my mother’s closet because she doesn’t wear them. They came to her as hand-me-downs from my sister.
My sister who has not spoken to me in several years.
My family is a wonderful, loving family that has a huge aversion to confrontation. We never have heated arguments. We don’t express anger out loud to each other. I always thought this meant that we were a healthy family.
I know many families that argue and fight with each other all the time. I have always thought that was an awful way to relate to family members. I felt that it was dysfunctional for people to yell and get mad at each other, but I am rethinking that idea.
Everyone in my family has learned that anger is not an acceptable emotion to express out loud. This has created a group of people who are dysfunctional in their own way. We use passive-aggression as our form of expressing anger. We never confront each other when we are offended. We don’t deal with conflict. We just walk away.
And in the case of my sister, that means just walking away from a relationship instead of facing me and telling me what it is I have done that made her so angry. Because we don’t express anger, I have no idea what I have done that warranted her to take this action.
At one time we were as close as sisters could be, and we enjoyed a mutually satisfying relationship. Not knowing what she is mad about has been very difficult for me. I have spent many dark hours in my mind replaying every single thing I have ever done that might have prompted this response. I have tortured myself no end with the thought that it must be because I am a terrible person.
The narrative we adopt around difficult issues can make us crazy and it took a long time for me to see that she bears some of the responsibility, too. As I began teasing apart all the strands of this story I have told myself, I realized that she based her choice on how we learned to handle conflict. Or not handle it, as it were.
I wish she had gotten really mad, shouting mad, and called me all kinds of names and told me I was a horrible person. It would have been easy to counter verbal anger with an appropriately contrite apology. I think we could have patched this up quickly and continued on with our close, loving relationship.
This is why I think that families who fight are probably healthier. At least everyone knows where they stand, what they need to do to fix things and how to go forward and put it all behind them.
Treating anger like a taboo has caused more harm than good in my family. It is unfortunate that we thought we had it all figured out just because we never fought. I see now that this is not true. Good healthy arguments are way better than having to throw the baby out with the bathwater because you can’t express your anger.
Recently, I sat with my sister at a family gathering. It was the first time I had seen her in many years. She was warm and polite. We stood for photos. She smiled and hugged me.
I told her I missed her. She said she missed me, too. I asked her if she thought we can fix it. She said. “I hope so.”
Me too. I hope that with all my heart. But in order for that to happen, she is going to have to express her anger out loud and in words so I can fix it. I have never wanted anybody to yell at me more than I want my sister to. I am going to write her a letter giving her permission to unleash it all on me.
In the meantime, I am wearing my sister’s pants. This is as close as I will get to her for now. I hope she will be able to tell me off someday. I am ready.
I miss my sister.