We’ve all been there, from the merest acorn of a disagreement, a towering oak of an argument has blossomed. Amid wild hand gesticulations, hitherto unseen face contortions, and regretful declarations you storm off like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.
What happens next can go one of two ways, and it is this that divides nations, genders, believers and non-believers.
Are you a ‘fighter’? Do you refuse to back down? Do you keep the argument going as you pack away the big shop, determined to make your point with an emphatic and victorious conclusion? Do you cling desperately to your original gist as voices grow an octave higher and more exasperated, and the kids stare vacantly at you wondering what has happened to interrupt the scene of carefree serenity their blissful abode once was?
Or are you a ‘sulker’? Do you retire to the garden or the bedroom to contemplate what has been said? Do you take a breather, mull things over, allow everything to cool down, pop off to the corner shop for a bag of Monster Munch? Do you appreciate that there is a danger of saying something you might regret?
I don’t want to put a label on it, but personally, I am a sulker. I wasn’t aware of this until I met my wife, I thought it was just ‘moody contemplation’, but I am and I always have been, even when my brother was beating me at Subbuteo because the build-up of glue on my goalie had rendered it incompetent.
The policy that “it’s good to talk” has very little substance when considering the situation has degenerated to one of no rational thoughts, and anything being said is simply grinding this episode deeper into a pit of eternal destruction.
Yes, it is good to talk, but at the right time. One of my many failings is that I only think of the right thing to say after the event.
I have always gone to great lengths to avoid confrontation, and some would say this is an admirable quality. Until, that is, you take it to the extreme of shutting yourself in your bedroom with a bottom lip the size of Fistral Beach, steadfastly resolving to stay there for a minimum of three hours, or the length of time it takes for your desire to watch Sky Sports Super Sunday to take over, whichever is sooner.
I am not that bad of course, in fact I have definitely improved in recent years, as maturity instils a more measured approach to minor household discord. I don’t endlessly brood until my wife gives in and returns to shake me out of my childish stupor, like that would ever happen anyway. I don’t adopt a sullen facade hiding the rage I feel underneath.
Yes, it is good to talk, but at the right time. One of my many failings is that I only think of the right thing to say after the event. In the heat of battle the witty pronouncement, the articulate observation, the logical riposte, never engage themselves, they only come to me after dissecting the argument for fifteen minutes. So at this point maybe it is good to talk, when reasoned reflection has returned to proceedings and the bloody rage that was threatening to take over has receded to a more balanced and open-minded discourse.
Be mindful, however, that the timing of your return to the former combat zone is essential. Sulk too long and you are in danger of falling into infantile territory. Some of my minor strops can now barely even be labelled as ‘sulking’, such is the brevity in which it takes me to regain calm and clarity on the situation. Certainly you should only return when you have peaceful intentions, but the element of surprise can work in your favour. A stopwatch is optional, but there is no doubt that if you shave a couple of minutes off your personal best “contemplation” period, this will throw your other half onto the back foot. With head spinning and caught off-kilter by your resurgent flirtation with adulthood, an environment now exists where they are possibly more open to your advancements towards conciliation. How you judge the timing of your grand re-entrance is clearly down to how well you know your partner, but certainly a well-thought out strategy can pay dividends.
It needs to be re-branded as a peaceful and constructive approach to mediation over any given subject, not a destructive juvenile strop.
I would never advocate sulking in public. Your home is your kingdom, and there you can contemplate the gravity of your dispute over a couple of Smiths albums whilst staring at the ceiling in your pants. In town or at the supermarket is not the place for the legacy of domestic bickering to leave its’ surly imprint. In this situation you need to rise above it, act like you have never acted before, be the better person you always wanted to be. Maybe as you do this, you may even reach the conclusion that a period of sulking when you get home is not even required. Taking this neutral approach to sulk initiation is always advisable, but never let the general public know the toys have been flung out of your pram. Nothing can disguise the negative vibe of a public tiff, your sour, resentful face cannot hide the boiling wrath underneath, so play it down, laugh it off, move along.
So my philosophy of being a sulker is borne, primarily, from a desire to sort out disagreements in a manner more in keeping with your general personality. Not for me is the build-up of vitriol and apoplexy that can lead down the wrong path towards rash comments. Some would say the world would be a better place if there were more sulkers in prominent positions. Pol Pot wasn’t a sulker, neither was Mussolini. These were tyrants of destructive magnitude. You wouldn’t see Vlad the Impaler discussing his over-crammed social diary with Mrs Dracula and storming off for an hour on Angry Birds whilst he considered whether he should go to the pub with his mates or for dinner with the wife. He would have it out there and then, to the bitter end, possibly involving sadistic torture.
Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa were well known sulkers. Not known for tea cup throwing or slugging it out to the death over whether to go stripes or floral in the living room. The Dalai Lama would back away from an altercation with conciliatory hand gestures suggesting “….we’ve all had a few….” and discuss calmly the merits of each opinion, in the hope that collective agreement is reached for the greater good of all concerned.
So sulking needs to rid itself of negative connotations. It needs to be re-branded as a peaceful and constructive approach to mediation over any given subject, not a destructive juvenile strop. Talking is good, at the right time. Gone is the slamming of doors and the stark refusal to co-operate. Gone are the tears and the week-long stubborn streak that festers into a messy behemoth from which your relationship may never recover. A good sulk never hurt anyone, it is the foundation for building bridges. World peace was never achieved by shadow boxing and “…I’m da boss!....i’m da boss!....i’m da boss!...”
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