Recently I was disappointed in a certain situation and decided to talk about it with my wife. Before I got even two paragraphs out of my mouth, she began telling me how she saw things from a different angle. Rather quickly I found myself frustrated and shutting down. It is often what I do at first when angry.
In my head I found myself thinking things like:
“She knows how to listen well, so why did she interrupt me? She must be getting tired of me having negative thoughts about life, so she just interrupted to stop me from whining. Living with me has to be hard – she may be just getting tired of me, period. I’m a mess.”
That was the story in my head that day.
On another day it might have been something like:
“I can’t believe she interrupted me. Sometimes she can be so inconsiderate – like what I think and feel doesn’t matter to her at all! What matters to her is just getting out what she wants to say so she can get on with her day.”
When there is conflict in a relationship, we all develop some kind of story in our head in an attempt to make sense out of the experience.
It is an effort on our parts, albeit often unconscious, to regain a sense of control and therefore security in what otherwise feels like an unsafe moment.
We have all been hurt in relationships to one degree or another. We are well acquainted with the pain and wish to do all we can to avoid it in the future. Almost instinctively therefore, we begin to think defensively, and the story in our head begins…
Sometimes the story takes on the form of self-abasement.
The story line is one in which we berate ourselves for what happened. As in my first example, we are the one that caused the conflict. It is our fault. Blaming ourselves gives us cause to back down or away from the other person.
We may apologize, even profusely. While this may feel and even look noble, it is rarely more than a means to stop the attacker and retreat into safety. This form of engagement will rarely if ever lead to a healthy resolve.
A second response is when we blame the other person for the conflict.
Just as in my second example above, they are the cause of the problem. Our thinking revolves around everything the other person did wrong and how much we were hurt by their actions. How dare they do or say what they did? When we take this response, we feel righteous and may even get others on our side. This form of engagement however, does not lead to a healthy resolve either.
If neither taking the blame oneself for a conflict occurrence, nor blaming the other is helpful, then what is?
I’ll address that next week.
FOR NOW, consider this:
What is your typical style in handling conflict? Blaming yourself or pointing the finger at the other?
In either case, what one thing could you do differently that might make at least a 50% difference in the outcome?
Question: Let’s start a conversation on this one and see if we can’t learn something from each other! You can leave a comment by clicking here.