Neither Paul nor Frank ever recognized that this was the principal source of their mutual rivalry, resentment, and antagonism. In fact, to hear either of them discuss their relationship, one would think that the main issue between them is that Frank is meticulously neat and fastidiously clean whereas Paul is notoriously sloppy.
While those characterizations are completely accurate, they are not the source of conflict within their interpersonal relationship. Their respective differences in that regard need not necessarily cause interpersonal conflict; in their case, they do because their respective preferences and comfort zones became the battlefield for their underlying mutual resentment created by the way that their father pitted them against one another in lashing out against them. Just as their father retaliated against each of them indirectly and in emotional ways without ever actually expressing his anger over their relationship with (or perceived “favoritism”) toward her, so did Paul and Frank learn to antagonize one another in the same way.
For example, if Frank Sr. showed favoritism toward Frank because of some perceived annoyance or slight from Paul, Paul might leave his pile of dirty laundry out, albeit on his side of the room when the brothers still shared a room. Paul was genuinely unaware on any conscious level that it was not a coincidence that he decided to sort his laundry and that he decided to leave it out and finish it “later” on the same afternoon that he found out that his father had paid to renew Franks gym membership but not his. Pauls perception was that he just needed to do his laundry and any mess he made was only on “his side of the room.” Frank, of course, detested the sight (and smell) of the clothes pile and threw it all back in the hamper, which caused a heated argument over their respective rights and obligations in sharing a room fairly.
For his part, Frank also acts out toward Paul passive-aggressively, such as by cleaning out the bathroom and throwing out magazines without asking Paul whether he is finished with them and by organizing the refrigerator and cupboards without asking Paul whether or not he was still saving a half a sandwich or a bag of cookies that might have begun to go slightly stale. Franks perception is that he is just doing his share to tidy up the apartment. Moreover, his perception also includes an aspect of righteous indignation over the fact that Paul does not clean up after himself adequately. Pauls perception is that he is a victim of Franks anal-retentiveness and that Paul does not “do anything” to Frank. In reality, both Paul and Frank have learned to hurt one another in passive-aggressive ways (Blair, 2007) and to retaliate indirectly without ever expressing or resolving the actual sources of mutual frustration between them.
Effective Interpersonal Communications – Principles, Misconceptions, and Barriers
Both Paul and Frank operate under misconceptions of the source of their conflict and the ways that they each contribute to it unnecessarily. In principle, any resolution will require the brothers to begin recognizing the role of their father in creating their feelings toward one another.
Throughout their lives, both of them have always strived for their fathers praise and approval and to be acknowledged by him. Because he provided positive feedback only in connection with pejorative comments about or treatment of the other, their desire for their fathers approval has always been a barrier to their establishing any sort of mutually supportive brotherly relationship. They misconstrued one another as rivals whose interests were diametrically opposed instead of as mutual victims of an emotionally abusive father.
The brothers primary misconception is that their mutual antagonism stems from their superficial differences in lifestyle when, in fact, those particular differences need not necessarily be the source of conflict (Branden, 2008). In principle, it would be perfectly possible for two bothers, one very sloppy and the other exceptionally clean, to coexist peacefully by appreciating general concepts of fairness and mutual consideration. In that regard, Paul would have to recognize and acknowledge the many ways that sloppiness even when, technically, within his private area could nevertheless be unfair to Frank, such as where it involved the scent of his dirty laundry even though it is on “his side” of the room. Likewise, Frank would have to learn to recognize and acknowledge the ways that “just cleaning up” could be disrespectful and inconsiderate of Paul, such as where it involves throwing out his magazines or food without asking him. To the extent the brothers continue to focus on who has more of a right to impose neatness or messiness on the other, their misconception of the nature of their conflicts as functions of their superficial differences will continue to be a barrier toward any resolution.
Perhaps their most important barrier is their failure to recognize the typical way (Branden, 2008; Crain, 1995) that they are perpetuating the same relationship patterns and destructive dynamics between themselves that their father has always relied upon. Specifically, when Frank Sr. was angry at Brenda when they were married, he would use and manipulate the boys to hurt his wife; when Frank Sr. is angry at either one of the brothers, he uses favoritism toward one son to lash out at his other son. Both Paul and Frank have developed the same pattern of bonding with one parent to manipulate or retaliate against the other and they both antagonize one another in very specific passive-aggressive ways while either pretending to be or actually being oblivious to what they are doing on a conscious level.
At the very least, effective resolution of the communications and interpersonal issues in their relationship will require the brothers to recognize the way that their father has been the primary source of their mutual antagonism. Once that barrier is addressed successfully, they can begin to resolve the others, such as the fact that their lifestyle differences could be the object of objectively fair compromise instead of the excuse to perpetuate passive-aggressive hostility between them.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T., and Akert, R. (2008). Social Psychology. New York:
Blair, G. (2007). Groups that Work. Washington, DC: IEEE Press.
Branden, N. (2008). The Psychology of Self-Esteem. New York:.