On Maintaining a Constructive Relationship – That Philosophy Dude

James

This is James, who is an advocate of ostrich policy.

Really? Another article on relationship advice? Before you stop reading, bear with me for a second. That philosophy dude never had long relationships before, you see. He was that dude that his lads in a sense were jealous of, simply because he was—in fact—living a happy single life. Not that he didn’t believe in long relationships, he just thought that it wasn’t for him. Sure, he tried it a few times, but nothing really lasted long. Certainly not as long as the relationships his lads are involved in. But then it happened. At first, he knew she wasn’t going to for the “let’s have tea at my house” line (note: I did in fact utter that incredibly lame sentence, but at least it didn’t include “Netflix” nor “Chill”), but he tried it anyway. She didn’t have tea with that philosophy dude, of course. It made perfect sense, since it was about 6-ish in the morning and any communication between his brain and the muscles that control his facial expressions or vocal cords (or other organs, for that matter) was lost: damn you, Tequila. 

 

But guess what. This one became story. A story close to being almost three years old now. This actually had and still has meaning. This was more than physical pleasure. Better still, this particular dudette wasn’t an easy catch to begin with. Awesome. Initially, all this was a bit frightening, given that this felt different and I was used to having no strings attached.[1] Now, I do not claim to be an expert on relationships, but given that my current one is going particularly swell and greatly outlasted my previous ones, I have learnt a thing or two. I hereby present to you a couple of philosophically infused musings that may or may not aid you in your (future) Venusian endeavors.

 

 

  • Do make time to discuss politics, religion and other intellectual subjects with your partner

 

Some people insist on avoiding certain subjects such as politics because they are considered notorious for creating uncomfortable conversations. Sure, there exist contexts—think workplace—where the discussion of these subjects may get out of hand, and this certainly may affect the quality of your formal relationships. But it depends on the extent to which you are expected to bond with those involved whether it is a risk worth to be taken. It is not necessary to discuss allegedly notorious subjects such as religion and politics with your boss or colleagues in order to function properly. Although intuition exists for a reason, your boss may still respond in ways you did not anticipate. And although it would not be rational to reassess your quality as an employee because you happen to be stupid enough to fancy Trump (unless you are involved in politics, perhaps), most people—including your boss, who in fact happens to be human too—are not necessarily rational beings. As such, you are risking your evaluation as an employee whenever you embark on discussing a delicate subject and it so happens that you and your boss entertain contrasting perspectives on the matter. Perhaps it is just better to not take the risk at all.

 

But we’re talking partner here. Sure, she too may consider your love of Trumpalicious to be utterly ridiculous (and rightly so). But if this would cause her to seriously reassess you as a person and your position as a partner, perhaps she wouldn’t be the one to go for in the first place. Let’s get back to square one: dating. So you had a few dates already. Great. Some insist on having easy conversations during those first dates. But why would you? Although it is indeed a tad bit weird if you declare your (truly blind) love for Trump the moment you order your first drink with her, I do not see why you must cling to small talk when you order that second beer (Don’t order tequila. Just don’t[2]). Discussion without substance—or: small talk—tells as much about a person as the size of his or her little toe does: nothing. Talking about subjects such as politics or religion are genuinely interesting because it differentiates a person from others. Most sentences that fit within the category of small talk are akin to tautologies anyway. Try Tinder and prove me otherwise. “I like good food”, “I like the company of my friends”, “I like having fun”. I have yet to come across someone who likes bad food, does not like the company of his or her friends and certainly doesn’t like to have fun!

 

One of the main reasons why my current partner is so bloody attractive simply is because she doesn’t refrain from discussing allegedly delicate subjects that silly magazines advise you to avoid. So we do discuss politics, religion and other topics related to justice. Although it must be admitted that we in fact agree on many things, it is those moments that we completely disagree on something that strengthens the chemistry that was already there. And here we touch on an underlying theme: conflict. Hello there! Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Conflict happens, and it can actually be quite attractive. On the other hand, if not dealt with constructively, conflict may mark the beginning of the end. Of your relationship, that is.

 

 

  • Do not avoid conflict, but rather deal with it effectively

 

Most people fall in love with other people than themselves.[3] This naturally implies conflict, since no other human being will think exactly the same as you do. But this is what makes other people interesting and at times even lifelong partners. Years of observation has taught me one essential thing: conflict itself is not the problem, but rather it is the methods that people apply in order to solve it that creates the problem. Or, as the wise Captain Jack Sparrow tells us:

 

Captain Jack Sparrow. The man. The legend.

One particularly cheeky philosophy dude.

 

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”

 

This quote may seem trivial, but with regard to conflict resolution it is of crucial importance. If disagreement about something is to be the defining characteristic of conflict, conflict appears everywhere. In relation to recognized matters of taste, disagreement generally does not have profoundly negative consequences. People usually do not end relationships because of disagreement about the taste of chicken or the aesthetic qualities of Picasso’s paintings, for instance. So, for our purposes, we focus on conflict about matters that are not considered to be simply matters of taste. Say that you find out that your partner possesses diametrically opposed views on how to raise children than you do. Fortunately, you and your partner are not planning to have children soon anyway. So why argue about it now, right?

 

An ostrich policy allows for the continuation of the relationship without having to endlessly argue about how to raise your children in case they do see the light of day. Of course most couples do in fact discuss these matters before their offspring appears. But some (or even many) people develop the habit of applying an ostrich policy to more and more potential sources of conflict. Being applied long enough, I can guarantee you that this ‘method’ will make matters worse for the both of you. An ostrich policy essentially means the avoidance of conflict, and as such it cannot properly be considered a constructive method of ending it. In fact, it should not be considered a method in at all.

 

Ultimately, I think that this policy is rooted in insecurity. When one becomes aware that a certain profound disagreement about something exists, there are several strategies to deal with it. One such strategy is to simply ignore that that it exists. This, of course, amounts to nothing else but fooling yourself. Perhaps you consider your opposing views to be insignificant or wrong because your partner or society disagrees with you. Also, you may feel that exposing your disagreement with your partner can seriously undermine your relationship in its entirety. In light of this, you may tell yourself that it really is not something to make a fuss about, and as a consequence you may begin to belittle your views in order to fool yourself that they really are not that important. If an ostrich policy becomes a default strategy of dealing with sources of conflict, it will lead to more frustration because it demands a change of character. The task of answering such a demand can be difficult because character, after all, defines us. We are what we think, you see.[4] However, confident people will not be afraid to change their thinking about things if opposing thoughts turn out to be more legitimate. Better still, confident people may be happy to be proven wrong—or admit having unconstructive thoughts—and even thank you for it! On the other hand, insecure people often conflate criticism of their thoughts with ad hominem arguments and rather seek means to avoid such criticism in the first place. I am convinced that this is why insecurity and an ostrich policy naturally find each other.

 

What can be considered a constructive method of conflict resolution? It is quite simple, really. First, recognize your disagreement about something. Do not belittle it, but accept that it is there. Second, do tell your partner that something is bothering you about the way she thinks about the subject in question. Make it specific: you are zooming in on a specific pattern of thinking and not about the complex of her thinking (i.e. her character). You love her personality, but you sense that some specific pattern of thought about a specific (weighty) subject is bothering you because it conflicts with your own patterns of thought. Next, let her know that you consider it important enough to talk about it. In this way you show that you recognize your thoughts as legitimate and worthy of discussion. This is attractive and indicative of a confident person. Perhaps the context in which conflict presents itself (a noisy train station, for instance) is not immediately suitable to discuss it. Articulate this and agree to discuss it at a later, specified context (e.g. after dinner).

 

 

  • Introduce a ‘safe haven’ so as to provide a non-threatening space of conflict resolution

 

Another strategy that this philosophy dude has found to be effective is the explicit introduction of a ‘safe haven’.[5] What do I mean by this in more conventional terms? As explained above, it is not uncommon for an ostrich policy to be (primarily) caused by feelings of insecurity. This policy can be likened to addiction in the general sense that you fool yourself to the extent that you simply deny the shitty reality that reappears when you sober up. So you start drinking again. Besides the obvious health consequences of such ‘strategies’, it will not make shitty realities—which may include a dysfunctional relationship—disappear. Instead, it will make these realities hit you harder than that moment when you were sixteen and you forgot to erase those cookies on your father’s computer.

 

Let us say goodbye to addictions and ostrich policies (al)together. Say that you are having a fine glass of Château d`Migraine with your partner. While you are enjoying those last sunrays in a park, next to you children are frolicking on a spot where a Golden Retriever recently left a part of him behind. Stunning. Explain to her that you love her to bits—however cheesy—and you cannot foresee any trouble on the horizon. Make it clear that whenever any profound disagreement about something happens to dictate your thoughts, you want to be able to discuss these thoughts without this to imply that the relationship itself is on trial (except when, of course, profoundly immoral shit just hit that fabulous fan). Add to this that you expect her to do the same. As such, you introduce a non-threatening space in which the both of you can stack as many idiomatic elephants as you wish, and where there it is agreed upon to not question the status quo that is your relationship with each other. In doing so, you negate the necessity of having to rely on strategies or methods that demand that you fool yourself by pretending to be someone that you are not. Feel the disagreement, accept that it is there, and explicate it in a non-threatening space or safe zone that you and your partner have agreed upon.

 

Got a question for that philosophy dude? Please do ask. I might be happy to be totally philosophical about it and respond to it in an upcoming article.

 

Ta-ta!


[1] See my other article on becoming attractive.

[2] “And if thou gaze long into a shot of Tequila, the Tequila will also gaze into thee.”

[3] If you’re going to be all Narcissus about it, please stop reading this article and transform in a bloody flower.

[4] Thank you, Descartes.

[5] Wait, what? No need to get all military and shit. Philosophy dude apologizes.

I’m that philosophy dude that you randomly meet in a bar. A few hours later you struggle to get home and think about the meaning of it all. You realize that talking to me probably was a bad idea, since philosophy dudes like me tend to get you all philosophical about shit that doesn’t really matter, or does it? This particular philosophy dude likes lots of stuff. He likes spicy Indian food, deep discussion, Louis C.K., TED, strong coffee, decent beer, writing pretentious articles and, of course, wisdom. I want to marry wisdom.