When I was fifteen I became a witness of my new friend’s family squabble. She yelled hysterically at her grandfather for a remark about her clothes that seemed quite innocent to me.
“Why did you react this way?” I asked her when we left her apartment. “He didn’t say anything hurtful.”
“You don’t live with him so you don’t get it,” she said. And it was true, I didn’t get it.
But later, when I came home and had my own family quarrel, I understood it. People we rarely see don’t bother us (even when they are really ugly) as much as those we have to deal with every day, and it is not only because of the amount of time we spend together. In general, we are much more permissive with strangers than with our close relatives and friends. For example, I don’t care if my neighbor is never sober and waddles through his days reeking with alcohol; it’s his life, I think, he can do anything about it, he can flush it down the toilet if that’s what he wants. But if my husband comes home with a couple of drinks inside him, he’s in trouble. And not because I respect his rights and free will less than those of my neighbor’s, but because his life is also mine, and whatever he brings home I have to share and deal with.
We easily forgive or forget those we don’t care about, but when people we love don’t understand us or do something we don’t understand we feel betrayed. “You are supposed to be here for me, but you’re against me!” This is what hides in any conflict between two persons who care about each other, no matter if it’s a marriage, friendship or blood relation.
In our minds, we are not separated from those we love, they are an inalienable part of our life, they are us, and this is why it is almost impossible to forgive them for their choices we don’t approve. We feel hurt, and we blame them for causing our pain. This is why almost every family is a minefield where only a naïve stranger can walk without risk to trigger a burst of emotions or have the “What’s the big deal?” expression on his face when witnessing an unexpected and unexplainable, from his point of view, explosion of atomic power.