Sunday, June 21, 2009

Keeping a Fine balance: don't argue or your heart'll break- literally!


In Gapun, a remote village on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, the women take a robust approach to arguing. In her pithy new book The Myth of Mars and Venus, Deborah Cameron reports an anthropologist's account of a dispute between a husband and wife that ensued after the woman fell through a hole in the rotten floor of their home and she blamed him for shoddy workmanship. He hit her with a piece of sugar cane, an unwise move that led her to threaten to slice him up with a machete and burn the home to the ground.

At this point he deemed it prudent to leave and she launched into a kros – a traditional angry tirade directed at a husband with the intention of it being heard by everyone in the village. The fury can last for up to 45 minutes, during which time the husband is expected to keep quiet. This particular kros went along these lines: "You're a f****** rubbish man. You hear? Your f****** prick is full of maggots. Stone balls! F****** black prick! F****** grandfather prick! You have built me a good house that I just fall down in, you get up and hit me on the arm with a piece of sugar cane! You f****** mother's ****!"

Such a domestic scene may be familiar to some readers, but for most of us arguing with our partners is not quite such an explosive business; except, perhaps, when discussing who is most responsible for a navigational hiccup on the way to lunch at the home of an old flame of our partner's, or getting to the bottom of who left the ****** ******* cap off the **** ******* toothpaste for the third ****** ******* time this ****** ******* week.

Human beings argue about everything from adultery to Zionism and we do so in different styles, whether we are submissive, passive, aggressive, abusive, abusive-passive, aggressive-abusive, submissive-aggressive or submissive-passive-aggressive-abusive.

But are there any broad differences between the sexes in the way that we argue? US research into marital stress on the heart has thrown up an intriguing finding about the way some are prone to "self-silencing" during arguments. The research by Elaine D. Eaker, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, found that more men than women had a tendency to bottle up their feelings during confrontations with their partners.

Tim Smith is a psychology professor at the University of Utah, whose own research has found indications that women's heart health is affected adversely by quarrels and men's when they feel they are losing control. There are clear indications, he says, that it is a male tactic to withdraw from arguments. "Women, on average, are more often in the role of the managers of relationship matters. They are often in the position of bringing up and pursuing things they would like to change. This is seen in wives making a request and pursuing it and husbands withdrawing and pulling back. The more of it a couple displays the weaker their relationship future is." 


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