This is one of the issues that I have read many times in emails from adult only children. Most of us – and I include myself in this – do not find conflict an easy thing to deal with or negotiate successfully. Many of us have a tendency to avoid it almost at any cost. This can be achieved in a number of ways like: turning the other cheek, pretending we are not upset really, or just sulking. The continuum stretches from complete avoidance to out bursts of fury and hostility. What we find much more difficult, is to be calm, negotiate and find a win – win solution.
As a child in a family with no siblings we did not have the opportunities to row, be angry and fall out with children of a similar age. Being angry with a parent is a very different matter. If parents’ are good at handling conflict with each other we may learn from observation how to do this. However I doubt I learned very much that has been useful in my adult life watching my parents’ row. What I learned very quickly is that if I did not get out of the way I might well get their attention and often their anger.
At school, I found conflict just as hard to manage. I tended to freeze and then try to get away as quickly as possible. Visiting friends’ houses I was amazed at the level of anger and frustration expressed – but more than anything I could not believe it all blew over so quickly and things went on smoothly, well at least until the next conflictual moment.
But this is what the only child misses out on – what some people call the ‘rough and tumble’ of sibling relationships. I better began to understand this after having my own two children who like any normal kids often got angry with one another over toys, clothes, unfairness and all the other things that drive us all to feel put out. Observing how easily they fell out and yet how easily they could bridge the gap the conflict opened up and get on again, was a real eye opener.
Whilst I am not under the impression that all sibling relationship are idyllic where conflict is concerned – it does at least give every child an opportunity to experience conflict in the relatively safe environment of the family – where hopefully a parent will stop it going out of control and help the siblings make up
Many only children find it particularly hard to deal with conflict with a friend, as unlike a sibling, they can go home and never see you again! So our experience of conflict resolution, as only children, is somewhat under developed. I remember the first time I allowed my anger towards another girl to surface and I ended up shouting at her and tearing her plastic-mac. I’m not sure who was more scared – her or me. So I learned to sit on my anger and avoid conflict at all costs as I had no real sense of how to manage it.
Now in my later years I wish I could say things are completely different. But the reality is I still avoid conflict when I can – when I can’t, I always wait till I calm down before saying or doing anything. Except of course with my husband but he is an only child to so he is equally good at avoiding it too!
So I keep reminding myself of the importance of conflict and how by learning to resolve it – we bring intimacy into our relationships. When we learn to negotiate and meet each other in an authentic way we can find ways around our differences and this brings us closer. This is a good thing!
Ok it does not feel like that at the time but avoidance does not bridge the gap between us. It is only when we can really negotiate and share our feelings that real intimacy is achieved. So next time you see yourself avoiding the situation- think again- conflict brings us closer!