Once upon a time in a galaxy far away a dead end job three lifetimes ago my boss had a motivational speaker come in. The man said two things that day that have proved more beneficial than the entire five years I spent in that job.
The first was that Algebra equals Life in that we are always trying to balance the equation and solve for the unknown. But for those of you who have mathphobias, don’t worry, I will not be talking about that today.
The second thing he said, and something I think is particularly useful for writers, was this:
That which is unspoken defines the relationship.
Think about that for a moment.
Those things you won’t talk about.
The apology never given.
The explanation never provided.
The promise never followed through on.
The secret never shared.
Those are what define the boundaries and contours of our relationships. The lines we will not cross. The conversations we will never allow ourselves to have. The intimacy we will never share. All the restrictions that will be imposed on our relationships because of the unspoken things that lie between us.
We humans are very, very good at not saying what truly bothers us and instead attack tangentially.
When we fight with our spouse over whose turn it is to do the dishes, it is rarely about the dishes. It’s more often about:
- The distribution of labor.
- Financial imbalances.
- Fear someone is not as invested in the relationship as we are
- Worries over who cares more
Even if the fight doesn’t have its roots in a big issue, it can often still not be about the dishes. Instead, it can be the equivalent of a stress tic. When we’re stressed, we kvetch, grumble, and find ways to siphon off that unhappiness without having to actually deal with it.
Any argument is usually rife with this sort of subtext. [Read more…]