YOU HAVE a point of view or a set of facts
you want your family member to accept or agree with or
she (or he) has a position she wants you to accept. If you engage
in an argument about it, you risk a riff between you, hard feelings,
anger, upset, even a complete severing of your communication
and a destruction of your affection for each other. This is not
good for your mood.
You may have known this family member for
a long time maybe your whole life. So perhaps you believe
you should be able to talk about anything with each other. But
you might be mistaken about this.
Here's the problem: The more controversial
the topic, the deeper the connection between you must be. The
"depth" of your communication is measured in recent
hours of talking to each other. In other words, if in the last
year, you have averaged about twenty minutes a week talking with
a family member on the phone or face to face your
relationship can handle very little controversy. Most of your
communication had better be pleasant or neutral (not controversial).
But if in the last year you have spent,
on average, many hours a week talking with your family member,
your relationship can handle talking about a much more controversial
Think of it this way: Any given power line
can only handle so much electricity at once. If more power tries
to surge down the line than the line can handle, the line will
melt or circuit breakers will melt. A bigger line could handle
the surge. A smaller line will fry. In other words, your communication
channel is only as big as your amount of communication has made
More non-upsetting communication creates
a bigger line, a stronger bond, a more robust relationship. A
stronger bond can handle controversy better than a weaker bond.
The researcher, John Gottman, looking at what it takes for
a marriage to stay together, discovered a minimum ratio: Five to one. A marriage needs at least five
times more enjoyable interactions as unenjoyable interactions
to prevent divorce. It is possible a similar ratio is required
for any relationship.
It is a good rule of thumb anyway to consider
that you need at least five times more hours talking about enjoyable
topics as controversial. Just to be on the safe side, try keeping
it at ten times more. Having a history with your family member
is unfortunately not enough. The "power line" between
you shrinks with time and lack of communication. A strong bond
requires recent communication.
If you're already engaged in a controversy
with a family member and already feel angry or hurt by your conversations
about it, realize right now that you have been mistaken about
each other. You are not in the wrong and neither is the other
person. The problem is: The communication channel between you
is too small. The problem is not your family member it
is a puny, atrophied communication channel created by a long
period of neglect. That's a better way to think about your disagreements
because it leads to clarity about what you can do that will effectively
improve your feelings about each other. You're suffering the
inevitable consequences of a lack of bandwidth. The more you
communicate about non-controversial topics, the bigger your bandwidth
If your family member lives in another
town or state and you don't see her or him much (or talk much
on the phone), you should probably avoid controversy completely.
Maybe some day you'll live closer or spend more time talking
on the phone. If that happens and you still want to talk about
a controversial topic, your bond will be able to withstand it.
In the meantime, reserve those topics only
for people you do talk to regularly.
Install this as your personal policy and
you will prevent a lot of bad moods and hard feelings. You will
find holidays and election years a lot more enjoyable in the
long run. And you will both be happier.
Read more: Family
Disintegration What Causes It?