• What’s the number one thing couples fight about? Nothing.

    Kyle Benson writes at The Gottman Institute:

    In an interview with Anderson Cooper, John Gottman reveals that the number one thing that couples fight about is exactly that: nothing. …

    What matters is not the fight itself, and especially not what it is about. What matters is how partners respond to negative emotions in the relationship. If couples see the conflict as an opportunity for growth, they can attune to each other and increase their understanding of one another, which deepens their trust in each other and in the relationship. …

    Negative events will always happen in relationships, and couples will always fight, but that isn’t what drives couples to separate. Relationships fail when the Story of Us—a couple’s history, shared beliefs, and overall attitude toward their relationship—is focused on the problems partners create, not the love partners offer, and the overall attitude becomes negative.

    What couples need to buffer against that kind of negativity is a “positive perspective” on the relationship. You need to remind yourself of the good things you share in your relationship, how much you admire and appreciate your partner, and how much you accept and understand their flaws despite whatever conflicts arise from them.

    However, if you have a negative perspective, you slowly disconnect, sometimes without even realizing it. …

    Regrettable incidents like fights, arguments, and interactions that are primarily negative will happen in all relationships. According to our research, both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time. This leaves 91% of our relational interactions ripe for miscommunication.

    While many see conflict in a relationship as a sign of incompatibility, it should be seen as a sign that the relationship needs growth and understanding. Conflict is really an opportunity to learn more about your partner. So, when it feels like you’re fighting about nothing and it goes nowhere, there’s likely a lack of understanding. Perhaps you need to discuss how to compromise and share decision-making, or how to recognize and realize deeper life dreams, or how to address core needs that aren’t being met. The fight itself—like arguing about where to have dinner—is about nothing. …

    Typical conflicts are merely a reminder that a relationship is two different people working together to understand differences and love each other despite flaws. And the reason why all couples fight is that we’re all a bit different from each other—personalities, needs, likes, dislikes, preferences, life dreams—and many of those differences (69%, to be precise) cannot be resolved.

    So, we fight. But that’s okay, because the trick is to learn how to fight in a way that doesn’t cause harm and that increases understanding. …

    When conflict occurs in a relationship, partners need to come together to understand each other better. Often times, that means taking a step back and saying something like, “What do you really need from me?” or “What does this mean to you? Tell me more.” It also means that, before you think of a response, or before you want to dismiss something your partner says that you disagree with, you need to really listen to your partner so that you can understand their perspective.

    Trust is built when there’s a positive perspective—that, despite the flaws, disagreements, and differences, it’s a good relationship and that each partner is there for each other. Those fights about nothing won’t happen as often when partners can really open up about their needs, concerns, and dreams. They know that they can work through it, even if negative interactions happen here and there. And for that to happen, couples need to intentionally try to understand each other’s perspectives. When understanding happens regularly, connection is built and a positive perspective blossoms.

    I’m also thinking of Jordan Peterson’s clinical perspective, which intersects to with the question of how to “fight better” in relationships:

    “Most people who trust are naive—and [to be] naive is not a virtue, it’s a fault. It’s partly a fault because if you’re naive, and you run into someone who’s malevolent—including you!—they night do you incalculable damage so that you never recover. That’s not a good thing, so you don’t want to be naive. If you’re not naive, that means you’ve been burned once or twice—or three or four times. And once you’ve been burned in that manner, well then it’s hard to trust! Because you think, ‘Well, why would I trust you or me for that matter, knowing full well that I can be betrayed?’ So then you’re cynical, and you [incorrectly] think that’s an improvement over being naive. You think you’re more mature.

    How do you get out of that conundrum? This is crucial to note: You trust people because you’re courageous. It’s the same reason that you’re grateful. It’s a mark of courage. It’s a mark of commitment. … I don’t think there is any other natural resource than trust. And for trust you need courage, and not naiveté. And you’ve got to overcome your cynicism, so that you trust.”

    You don’t want to be naive. You don’t want to be cynical. You choose to trust because you’re courageous. It’s a mark of courage.

    Because love is an act of the will more than an expression of the sensual emotions (we choose to love, we choose to will the good of the other), we need this courage and we need to regret the critical, negative tendencies of our hearts in our relationships with other people, especially those nearest to our own hearts.

    And with respect to ourselves, and our self-judgments, we’ve got to walk the same path between a false naiveté and a toxic cynicism, in order to reach a place of trust and positive perspective where a permanent sort of love and relationship continually takes shape.

  • I listened to the latest from The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast on Monday night, “Why You Should Treat Yourself as if You Have Value,” which is also a chapter from his 12 Rules for Life. The episode is a lecture from July 2018 that Jordan Peterson delivered in Edmonton. At approx. 25 minutes, he riffs:

    [Be] the protagonist of your own plot, or the hero of your own story. There’s a rule that I sort of learned from the psycho-analysts, particularly from Carl Jung, that if you’re not the hero of your own story then you’re a bit part in someone else’s. And that part is one that’s assigned to you and it’s probably not one that you would pick.

    You see that idea laid out, for example, in popular fiction like in the movie Pinocchio, because the main character in Pinocchio is someone who is a marionette whose strings are being pulled from behind the scenes.

    So the idea there is that if you’re not your own person, you’re someone else’s puppet—or something else’s puppet. And that’s even worse.

    One of the things Carl Jung also said about ideas, which just staggered me when I started to understand it, is “People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.”

    You can think about that for about ten years. That’s a terrifying idea. And you when people are possessed by an ideology—all the people have the same idea! And you think, “Well, if all the people have the same idea, what makes you think that they have the idea? It’s exactly the other way around: the idea has them. And unless you understand that to some degree, you can’t understand the sorts of things that happened in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or Maoist China, where whole populations were gripped by an idea and acted it out. They were in the thrall of that idea. So it’s really important that you have your own story. If you’re without a story, some other damn story is going to pick you up. That’s for sure.

    And one of the things Jung said, for example, is you should figure out what your story is, because it might be a tragedy. And if it is, you might want to rethink it. And that’s very much worth thinking through. It’s partly worth thinking through because the easiest sort of life to have is a tragedy. I don’t mean it’s easy on you, because it’s not. But if you just sort of fall forward into life thoughtlessly, the probably that what you’re going to have is a tragedy is virtually certain. And so perhaps you don’t want that—especially not if you decide you’re going to take care of yourself like you’re someone that you’re responsible for helping.

  • Christopher M. Reilly writes on healthy community life:

    Senator Josh Hawley is right when he says that America needs to renew its attention to “the middle.” The quibbling of Democrats’ debates, and the historic dysfunction of Congress, show that most of our governing class is simply ignoring the demands that half of the country expressed by electing President Trump. We have had more than our fill of postmodern chaos and excuses from a governing class that is fleeing from responsibility for average citizens. All generations, not least the hounded Millennials and the forgotten elderly, have heard too much about an “epidemic of loneliness” and “death by despair,” and not enough about reasons to hope. …

    While rebuilding a community requires reorganizing power, there is much more to it. It is not enough simply to urge people to rejoin their church or a baseball league. As Robert Putnam and his colleagues demonstrated in Making Democracy Work, communities are built around shared traditions and norms―the “social capital” of the people. A local community has a character that distinguishes its people and place, one that gives the community an identity that its residents can relate to, negotiate with, and absorb into their own personalities. The social capital of a community is not merely an asset for its current residents: it also affects the welfare of future generations and the community’s attractiveness to newcomers. Public policy must therefore take it into account.

    There is always the danger that emphasizing social capital and tradition can quickly lead a community to oppress or unjustly exclude some people. The entire political tradition of the Enlightenment can be seen as a resistance to unthinking, oppressive traditions that were thought to underlie the Leviathan states that existed before and during early modernity. But the American communities that we are considering are much smaller in geography and population than the nation-state, and therefore the dynamics of interaction are different; as a shared language for face-to-face social engagement and events, knowledge of tradition can be essential to individuals’ free participation in dialogue within their community.

    Moreover, not all appeals to tradition are sincere. Niccolò Machiavelli urged leaders to pay lip service to traditional themes in their public statements in order to give their progressive policies a more appealing ideological mask. We see the same deception at work today as the dual forces of elite centrism and relativism use the language of family, peace, and religious sincerity as a convenient decoy while they in fact promote a culture of impulsive consumerism. By contrast, the tradition and common sense of America’s small communities authentically uphold faith and family as ballasts against the chaos of postmodernity.

    Because of the importance of passing on tradition, a flourishing community requires active communication among citizens. The members of the community must engage, debate, and cooperate in the social and political processes that govern the community’s operations. But that cooperation can happen only if each citizen identifies so closely with his extended neighborhood that that identity expresses itself spontaneously in his action. In other words, true citizenship is a process of dialogue between the individual and the whole, and such citizenship is at the core of what defines any community. As Rudolf Steiner declared: “A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.”

    That being said, we should add that one kind of community, the two-parent family, is founded on natural bonds that go deeper than the members’ self-identification with the group. Families are the bedrock of well-being for their individual members, both children and adults. They give their members financial security, healthy emotional growth, and the life experience that imparts spiritual and practical wisdom. For children in particular, living a happy family life teaches them that the larger world—of which their family is an image—is good, a lesson that children carry all through their lives. Moreover, families act in the larger social dialogue in ways that individuals do not, through inter-couple relationships, collective parenting networks, and intergenerational support. Flourishing communities are as much defined by the engagement of families as of individuals.

    All of this ties in with Philip Halfacre’s vision of genuine friendship.

  • Agata Rottkamp asks, “Are you an adult?”:

    If numbers and measurements yield no definitive answers, we must ask a more fundamental question—the very one we want to wrestle with in this and the three subsequent issues of Humanum: what does it mean to be an adult? What does it mean to be mature—to be fully alive?

    A troubling new trend suggests that instead of being an adult, it is sufficient to “adult” when necessary—that is, to undertake the things that responsible adults do: pay the bills, clean one’s apartment, control one’s temper, etc. Once the often unpleasant tasks have been accomplished, the role of adult can be cast aside, to be reassumed at a later time. By this logic, however, one could go through life without ever reaching adulthood per se, without giving up “childish ways”, as St. Paul suggests we must when we mature (cf. 1 Cor 13:11). Acting responsibly, though important, is not therefore definitive when we are speaking of adulthood.

    As so often on the Christian journey, the beginnings of an answer to our question can only be discerned when the gaze shifts from the “I” (what I have to do to become independent) to the “thou” and, eventually, the “Thou.” Adulthood means no longer having the self as one’s sole focus. The ability to put the other first, selflessly, if not without effort, may be a more defining trait of human maturity. “Now [as one matures] the person is able to give himself to the other,” Fr. Jose Granados tells us, “to abandon the sphere of the isolated individual around which the feelings tend to circle…in such a way that the individual is no longer the center of the relationship but lives…out of himself and, only in this way, becomes fully himself.” …

    In a clear and definitive tone, the Baltimore Catechism tells us that God made us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world; and to be happy with Him forever in the next. If this is our intended telos, then surely human maturity—that is, adulthood—must take up the tasks of knowing, loving and serving God in a way that corresponds to a given individual’s abilities and situation. And when carried out perfectly, these tasks—this full flowering of humanity—become holiness.

    Adulthood and the “full flowering” of one’s masculinity or femininity…

  • Fr. Michael Rennier writes on St. Ignatius Loyola:

    Asking questions about why you’re here and what will make you happy is too often neglected. When planning for the future, there can be significant pressure to obtain the highest paying job or get into the most prestigious school. The result is that we forget to examine why we want to pursue these options in the first place and never ask the most important questions. Will being a lawyer make me happy, or should I be a stay-at-home father instead? Is it worth it to go to Yale if the love of my life, the person I hope to marry, cannot go there with me and our relationship comes to an end?

    Failing to consider our purpose in life isn’t a new problem. As a young man 500 years ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola never took the time to consider his future. Instead, he spent his time chasing women and obsessing over fancy clothes. He also loved the bravado of shiny swords and military exploits. Eventually his way of life caught up with him when he was seriously injured by a cannonball during a battle. While in bed healing, he had time to think about his life and discover his purpose: to begin a new religious order. From that moment on he was a different man.

    In hopes that it would help guide others, Ignatius wrote down some of the steps he took to discover his purpose in life. Here is some of his advice based on a chapter titled “Making a Good Election,” from his book of Spiritual Exercises.

    Fr. Rennier elaborates on each of these:

    1. Pick the right time to think about it
    2. Imagine yourself in the future
    3. Ask the people who know you best
    4. Think about how the rest of your life is affected
    5. Pretend you are another person giving advice to yourself
    6. Imagine you are living your last moments
  • Andrea Burke writes on an undervalued path to happiness:

    We’ve gone so far down the road of feminism that we’ve forgotten how to proudly be feminine. You want to carry a child in your bones and lay down your life for them for more than 18 years? You want to lay down your life and learn to die to self for the rest of your life? You want to serve someone with all your heart, body, and soul? You want to master the art of cooking for a crowd and have clean clothes and end each day knowing that there’s a group of people who look to you as one of their anchors and rocks? You want to work your tired body from dawn to dusk for love? …

    I wish we loved the strength it takes for a woman to become a wife and a mother. We marvel at her physical strength when she births a child. But we forget what invisible strength she shows when she lays down her life for her home every day after that. Social media spends all of its energy telling women to remember who they are, to fight for their sacred spaces, to become the woman they want to be. All things that feel confusing when you’re holding a newborn baby and learning to forget your self-centeredness, allow others into your personal space, and become the woman that you are becoming and not who you thought you’d be.

    I wish as a culture, we understood what happens in those four walls when two adults decide to sacrifice for one another, be good stewards of their money, welcome in guests, and raise a generation to know the heritage of the Lord. I wish we called it more than a contract, an agreement, or even a commitment to vows. I wish we called it holy, beautiful, other-worldly.

    We’ve tried to make it easy. We’ve updated our lives with gadgets and gizmos aplenty. We’ve made our machines smarter. We’ve made our cleaning supplies more time efficient. We’ve scrubbed the hard work right out the door. We don’t even need to meal plan or grocery shop anymore. Fresh groceries can show up at our door, pre-measured, pre-planned, ready to go to the table within 30 minutes.

    We’ve turned our properties into museums. Instead of well-loved they are well-liked on social media and we’ve forgotten how to create a home, and instead curate a scene for those who will never step foot through our door. We’ve replaced hard conversations with texts.

    We’ve told husbands and wives that the primary goal of their marriage is their own happiness. We’ve sold them the lie that once it gets hard, tired, menial, once it gets weary, someone raises their voice, or someone says something they regret, that we can get out with a white flag that says “this just isn’t for me anymore.”

    We’ve made love about sex. And sex about self.

    We work so that we can have a home. And a home not simply as a shared physical space, but as a place of respite from the world with the emotional, spiritual, and psychological peace that accompanies all the truly good things in life.

    The same soft bigotry of low expectations that once worked to keep women from professional life is probably now working to keep women from enjoying the fruits of home life.

  • Randall Smith distinguishes acts and practices of virtue from often-deficient and generationally-specific norms and attitudes. We think of both the former and the latter as “tradition,” in a sense, but Smith conveys why only the former constitutes a traditional way of life:

    Gentlemen, it has become very clear from the responses I’ve heard repeatedly from bright, beautiful, devoted Catholic women that you would be making a big mistake were you to announce you wanted a “traditional Catholic wife.”

    What young women hear when you say a “traditional” Catholic wife is that you want a woman who will stay home, cook, clean, and take care of the babies, while you work all day. To put this another way, you want your mother. And the one thing most bright, devoted Catholic women don’t want (especially the ones who want plenty of children) is to be some grown man’s mother.

    There is also a nagging historical problem as well. What do you mean by traditional? …

    The “traditional Catholic family” where the husband worked all day and the wife stayed home alone with the children only really existed – and not all that successfully – in certain upper-middle class WASPy neighborhoods during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Working in an office all day is not necessarily evil (depending upon how it affects your family). It’s just modern. There’s nothing especially “traditional” about it. …

    I don’t think this sort of life [woman and man living their vocation together, both working to raise a family in as intimate a way as possible] would have appealed to young Jane Austen, as it rarely appeals to her modern-day Catholic equivalent. But it has an undeniable beauty and involves a “tradition” in the sense that it is bound up with very definite practices and virtues.

    Let me suggest, therefore, that a “traditional” Catholic wife is one whose life is bound up with a tradition constituted by virtues and practices – in this case, let’s say the Catholic intellectual tradition and the life of the intellectual, moral, and theological virtues. That’s the key “tradition” you should care about. It would be foolish to define “traditional” by one particular arrangement at a narrowly circumscribed point in time.

    Tough, smart virtuous women want a tough, smart virtuous man, not a boy looking to replace his mother. So man up. Accept it. You’re going to have to raise those kids along with your wife. If you think you can “offshore” that task and dump it on your wife or the teachers at the school, you’re not doing the traditional Catholic thing. You’re just doing the traditional stupid thing.

    A tough, smart wife who challenges you will make you a better man.

    To cultivate the “intellectual, moral, and theological virtues” is a better way to think of living “the traditional life”, not only because it focuses on the point of life and family but also because it could be instantiated in any number of apparently unconventional places and ways.

  • Ghosts or ancestors

    Andy Weissman writes:

    Towards the end of his Broadway show, Bruce Springsteen describes how he’s realized that as parents, we have a choice to make: will we be ghosts or ancestors to our children. As ghosts, we haunt them with our mistakes and burdens; as ancestors, we free them from our flaws and walk alongside (or behind them) and help them find their own way.

    In the past few months and without really thinking about it, I’ve started to get my morning coffee set up in place before I go to bed. On the kitchen counter I place the coffee dripper, filter, and scale, and then I weigh the beans. Last night at dinner I realized this was what my mother used to do every evening when we were kids.

    Was she now being a ghost to me, or an ancestor with me?

    Ghosts v. ancestors. I think I like that distinction as a way to think through the impact of family in your own formation—their influence as it has met your choices, and how one reconciles the bad and the good to live a life.

  • Austere and lonely offices

    Attended mass at Saint Denis in Havertown, Pennsylvania this morning. In Philadelphia now, and interested in seeing whether the Philadelphia Eagles season continues tonight against the New Orleans Saints. Sharing a scene from Market Street in Old City, and pairing it with Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays:”

    Sundays too my father got up early
    and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
    then with cracked hands that ached
    from labor in the weekday weather made
    banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress,
    fearing the chronic angers of that house,

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well.
    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices?

    It was something like ten years ago (maybe more) in the mid-winter that I was visiting my great uncle Bruce Shakely in western Pennsylvania. I had driven from State College the night before and arrived late. Gradually, the following morning, I woke to what I realized was the sound of Bruce out back, chopping wood for the living room furnace. Bruce was something like 85 at the time, still fulfilling one of Hayden’s “austere and lonely offices” of daily life and love.

  • I saw John Singer Sargent’s “Death and Victory” for the first time a week or so ago, thanks to a friend sharing it in remembrance of the Great War, World War I. It was created in 1922, when there had been barely enough time for the trauma of that war to have begun to form scar tissue, let alone heal. But in imagining myself seeing this, standing before it the year it was created, I can imagine it bringing some degree of solace.

    Philip A. Bruce, my great grandfather, served in the Great War and I think about him and what “Death and Victory” would mean to him. He served in the Army at St. Mihiel and at Meuse-Argonne in 1918, and I think elsewhere. After the war he became a Philadelphia police officer, and in November 1929 was killed in the line of duty. He’s memorialized with other Philadelphia police officers in Franklin Square. It was my great grandmother who led the family through the Great Depression and provided for her young daughter and many relatives.


    “Happy those who with a glowing faith, in one embrace clasped death and victory.”