The art of arguing, part V: how does the ability to argue effectively contribute to personal growth and relationship development?

There’s no substitute for some trial by fire in our lives. The surfer needs bigger and bigger waves to continue their growth, and we need challenges in our inner lives and relational lives. The skills we use in these moments can completely change our sense of self, our confidence and mastery. So much of the world that matters to us is the social world: learning to surf these particular waves, as opposed to ocean swells, has a profound practical effect in our daily lives.waves

I use self-understanding all day long to tune into the thoughts actively and emotions I’m having. As I’ve matured, this skill is no longer just about surfing the big waves (or regulating the difficult and uncomfortable emotions, as we might say), but it’s just for fun. It’s to experience and enjoy the little nuances of everyday life. Consider catching the faint smell of damp earth in the spring, noticing the surprise and nostalgia that attends to it, enjoying the way it sucks me out of some mundane moment of my day. The capacity to engage in these kinds of sensitive and subtle inner experiences is an outcome of the more obvious and more urgent work of self awareness and mastery we learn while fighting with the people we love. I know, I know… it sounds funny. But it’s true! There is no urgency in the rose, so it does not confront us with its teachings. But there is urgency in anger, in pain, and we can use our need to understand and resolve those emotions to teach us how to be with ourselves.

But of course, arguing is all about other people, not just ourselves. And as I said in Part I of this series, as much as I love a good honeymoon, in the words of an old client of mine: it can’t all be sex and shopping. It’s even more than just preparing for the bad times and having tools to get through them. It’s that relational maturity is on the other side of these conflicts, and the real truth of the matter is that the joyful intimacy of mature relationships is better than the honeymoon. EyeIn conflict we don’t just see ourselves better, but we see the other better. Through our courageous listening of their authentic and skillful self-expression, we come to know who they really are, and over time this generates a depth of experience that is unmatched. And I’m not just talking about deeper safety and resiliency and other therapy favourites. I’m talking about deeper pleasure, deeper comfort, deeper loving and deeper being loved. It’s there for us; it’s just on the other side of fighting.