Friday, August 2, 2013

Conflict resolution

There are few things more dramatic, and traumatic, than that first big fight with your best friend.

It's been a little over two weeks, and it's all over now, but for the better part of a week, Earbaby and her closest friend Beth went at each other with the intensity and vitriol never before seen outside the confines of this household. She and I have had these battles, and I understand that it's common in households with mothers and daughters, but this was especially devastating.

Now EB is no shrinking violet, although she has been known to "bawl her eyes out" while in conflict with a friend or two from her inner circle at school. But those usually are resolved within a day or two. When it's been worse than that, sometimes the friendship dies and EB seems none the worse for wear.

But this was Beth, whom EB absolutely adores. It started with a small irritation and suddenly grew into a monster screaming match. But the real culprit here is one I've blamed, explained and complained about many times, of course to deaf ears.

It's our old enemy the text.

As I've told EB many, many times (don't know why I bother at this point), reading a text can be tricky. There are no inflections, no facial expressions (no matter how many emoticons you add) and so there's no context to draw from. The one word hello, can be read as hello, are you there? Or it can be hel-loo, I'm waiting to hear back from you, or hell-looo, in a sarcastic tone. It's one word, but since you apply the context, you read it the way you're thinking the other person meant it.

By the time these two finished screaming at each other mostly through texts, calling each other names other than the ones they were born with, and generally being all consumed with the escalation of a silly irritation, EB had unfriended her best friend on Facebook and was begging me to go in and block her phone number (I refused, and she realized two minutes later she was being impulsive). Beth for her part uninvited herself to a baseball game and a concert she had been invited to months earlier, but both happening within days.

By the fifth or sixth day, EB was exhausted from fighting with Beth, which spilled over to her dad and me. When I told her Beth was probably just as miserable, she answered tearily, "No, she's probably loving this." It will take a few more years before she realizes that no one loves fighting with their best friend. It hurts everyone.

I didn't want to step in. I love them both, and who they are when they are together. I didn't want to call Beth's mom and I certainly wanted EB to learn how to resolve her own conflicts, particularly one that was so painful. And she was in pain. She had never fought with Beth and she had planned on spending as much time with her this summer as possible before vacations and eventually school limited their time. So after the baseball game (she invited another friend, who also had tried to be a peacemaker between the two), I told her not to invite anyone else to the concert she had been looking forward to since she found out about it Christmas Day.

And I told her it was time for the two of them to make up. They had gotten stuck in a continuous loop of "you said this, so I said that" and every attempt to fix the fight deteriorated after rehashing the reason.

I remember years ago when relationship counselors would talk about fighting fair. No name-calling or hitting below the belt with intentionally hurtful things. I always thought it was good in concept, but usually no one worried about rules and fighting fair when hurt and extremely angry. The point is to hurt, isn't it? It was time to learn to stop saying hurtful things before the two "sisters" said something they couldn't take back.

So I told EB it was time to get unstuck. I said she should call, not text (!) Beth and say, "Listen, we were both wrong, and I'm sorry and I love you." No rehashing of the fight, no more talking about it at all.

And she listened. She called Beth, apologized and was happy to hear Beth say the same thing. And she had been just as miserable and sad.

They went to the concert together, Beth spending the night here before and after the big night. They're two peas in a pod again. EB says it's like the fight never happened. This may not be the last time these two have a conflict. As they get older and more mature, they will learn that every disagreement doesn't have to go from zero to DEFCON 1, that they can survive and still love each other. It was a tough week. These two young women in training just got a little stronger, and a lot tougher.

Peace has returned to the valley and life is good again.

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