Erik and I had an interesting discussion this morning. I read an interview yesterday in The Sun, in which psychologist Stanislav Grof spoke of the trauma of birth as one of the principal influences in our lives. Addressing this, Grof cited a couple of other researchers and stated they’d found that birth trauma was correlated with suicide, and moreover, that specific types of trauma matched up with specific types of suicide: asphyxiation with squeezing in the birth canal, violent suicides with mechanical birth traumas, substance-induced suicides with opiates administered during labor. I found this all fascinating and told Erik about it. He frowned and said this sounded questionable. I showed him the paragraph in the article, he Googled the researchers and the studies. Our conversation then went something like this:
ERIK: I think he’s extrapolating too freely from the evidence. What he’s saying sounds like bad science.
LISA: That’s just the way people talk. It’s an interview, not a peer-reviewed paper.
ERIK: Yeah, but that’s still not responsible. He’s taking something from the studies to talk about something else, and making it sound like that was in the studies.
LISA: Well, I don’t rule it out, just because it hasn’t yet been verified by science.
ERIK: But if the science isn’t there, he shouldn’t be making claims like that.
LISA: I’m just intrigued by the possibility. I don’t feel that I need a whole ton of scientific evidence to measure whether an idea is interesting to me.
And so on and so forth. Basically it went like this, Lyapa-style:
ERIK: *swipe swipe*
LISA: *swipe swipe*
ERIK: *swipe swipe swipe*
LISA: *swipe swipe swipe*
We weren’t mad, because this is ground we’ve gone over many times before. But we were annoyed, because, well, we’ve talked about this before. I’ll bring something up that interests me, and Erik will wonder whether it’s confirmed by studies and Google it and find that it’s not. Then I get mad because he keeps trying to bring science into the conversation when it’s not the science part that interests me. Then he gets mad because for everything he says after that, I act like I’m listening when I’m really not.
This morning we were having this same old conversation we’ve had a million times before, but we really didn’t even want to, because we were so tired from our long day yesterday. But you know how it is once you get into a conversation like this; it’s hard to get out. So we were talking and talking and at some point we left the same old ground:
LISA: You know, when I tell you something that interests me and you tell me it’s bad science, I feel like you’re telling me I don’t think things through.
ERIK: That’s not what I’m saying at all!
LISA: Or I feel like you’re saying that the things that interest me are silly or stupid.
ERIK: No no, they’re not! I don’t feel that way at all!
LISA: Well, that’s how I feel.
ERIK: All I’m trying to do is point out when something is bad science, but it’s like I’m pushing this button and it just makes you so defensive.
LISA: It’s true, you are pushing one of my buttons.
ERIK: But when you react that way, I feel like you’re calling me close-minded just because I’m questioning the science.
LISA: I guess I am kind of calling you close-minded.
ERIK: Well, that’s one of my buttons.
If Erik had just been pushing one of my buttons, it would have been okay. If I had just been pushing his, it would have been fine too. But because we were each touching a nerve in the other, both of us flared up and had this conversation that we’re always having because it always pushes our buttons. So we started talking about these buttons.
LISA: Okay, let me just ask you: Do you think I’m a bad critical thinker?
ERIK: No! Not at all! I think you’re a very good critical thinker; that’s why you write so well.
LISA: I don’t think I am though; I think a lot of the time I’m really gullible and I write badly. And I feel like there’s this whole realm of stuff that interests a lot of women, that a lot of guys think is stupid, so that’s also why I’m sensitive about this.
ERIK: Do you think I’m close-minded?
LISA: Well, you are, but that’s not a criticism. I am too. There’s almost nothing you can tell me about engineering that I want to hear, and I know that for you, even if you lived for 200 years, you’d never care about fashion.
ERIK: How can I work on being more open-minded?
LISA: You don’t need to. I’m just being a 3-year-old because I want you to like the same things I like at the same intensity, and when you don’t, I think you’re close-minded. That’s just me being silly.
Having realized the trouble, we made a tentative pact. The next time this happens, we will try to deal with it like this:
LISA: Look at what this says, isn’t that interesting?
ERIK: Sure, but I don’t know if that’s backed up by science.
LISA: You’re probably right, but I don’t care.
So this is what we’ve learned about ourselves and our relationship this morning! Of course this whole business took a lot longer and we weren’t nearly so articulate — and there was a lot of blustery poking and waving while we figured out what we were so annoyed about — but the end result is the same. I think this lesson is applicable to a lot of relationship disagreements, whether it’s in our marriage or whether it’s arguments we have with other people. When other people push our buttons, there’s a big divide between what they say and what we hear, and when that’s going on on both sides of the conversation, it gets sticky. But maybe we’ll remember this in future and be able to talk it out before it gets to the swiping stage!