About Me

Meredith Richardson, Esq., is a conflict management specialist.  She works as a Mediator, Facilitator, Trainer, and Conflict Coach in Maine and New Hampshire.  Follow her on facebook as Meredith Mediates: http://www.facebook.com/MeredithMediates.  To receive monthly tips on conflict and upcoming events and retreats, email her at meredithmediates@aol.com.

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When the Honeymoon is Over

In Fairy Tales, the individuals involved overcome some great hurdle to be together as a couple, and then, as soon as the couple is together, the story ends with the magic words, "And they lived happily ever after."

In real life, the true challenge to living happily ever after comes after the honeymoon, not before.

There are 5 stages to any healthy relationship:

  1. Honeymoon
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Misery
  4. Awakening
  5. Peace and Calm

This is ANY healthy relationship – parent-child, romantic, friends, work colleagues, etc.

And it is also any HEALTHY relationship – many relationships never make it to the point of Awakening or Peace and Calm.  People may end the relationship at the Misery stage or they may remain forever entrenched in Misery.

The stages are impermanent and you can cycle through them multiple times over the course of your relationship. 

You can also get stuck in a rut in Misery.

In the Misery stage, you find a lot of unhealthy conflict patterns.  There may be power struggles, which may be overt or covert.  A passive-aggressive power struggle is still a power struggle.  Each person may feel deep disappointment and distress.

So, imagine Cinderella, who may be a little bit of a neat freak after all those years of cleaning up after her stepmother and stepsisters.  She may also be a bit conflict-avoidant.  Maybe she marries the Prince and finds herself stuck in old patterns -- cleaning obsessively, tending to his needs instead of her own.  He's happy - he has a clean castle.  She's happy, at least initially, because she's in love.  And then she starts slowly to resent what she has to do, just a little bit, and then a little bit more, and so on.  Because she hasn't had the experience of having an equal relationship, because she has been taught that her needs are unimportant to herself and to others, she does not know how to have a discussion about this.  And he's a Prince.  He has been taught that his needs are more important than anyone else's in the Kingdom (except the King's and maybe the Queen's).  After a few years, the relationship between the Prince and Cinderella may look a lot like the previous relationship between the stepmother and Cinderella.  Misery.  

If the Prince and Cinderella don't figure out how to successfully navigate conflict, they will never reach the Awakening stage.

To get to the Awakening stage, you must successfully navigate conflict.  You cannot avoid it.  You cannot continuously accommodate your partner’s needs, while forgetting about your own, and building resentment in yourself each time that you do so.  You cannot consistently compete to have your needs taken care of, blind to the needs of your partner, ignoring the needs of your partner, or sacrificing the needs of your partner.  You cannot arbitrarily compromise so that neither of your needs are met. 

The only way to get to the Awakening stage is to work together, collaboratively, taking into account the needs and interests of each person in the relationship, and crafting a solution that works for both of you. 

It is estimated that only 5% of relationships reach the stage of Peace & Calm.  I believe that more relationships could reach this stage, if only the people in the relationship had the right tools.  (I also believe that some people are not capable of reaching this stage, no matter how many tools they are given.)

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your relationship, if you’re in Misery and just cannot figure out a way through it, call me and let me help.  I can mediate a difficult discussion between you and another person.  I can also provide conflict coaching for you individually, if that is what you prefer.  207-439-4267  

If you're thinking that your relationship needs more intensive work, then join Susan Lager, a fabulous couples therapist, and me at Star Island for a Couples Retreat June 21-24, 2015.  You can register here.


Romancing the Brain of a Button Pusher

When you are dealing with a button pusher, the least effective words to use are words like, “Stop,” “Don’t,” or “No.”  When you say those words, you are giving the button pusher exactly what s/he wanted – a reaction from you.  You get a little spike of irritation and the button pusher gets a little spike of satisfaction in having triggered this response.  Because the button pusher has learned that this is a triggering spot for you, and because the button pusher received some sense of satisfaction in finding that button to push, the button pusher will continue to push that button so long as you continue to react in the same fashion.  Your increased irritation does not serve as a deterrent.  It may even serve as a stimulant.

When all of this is happening, neither you nor the button pusher are operating as your highest and best selves.  You’re each acting on auto pilot.

If you want to have the button pusher stop doing whatever s/he is doing, you have to appeal to that person’s highest and best self.  And, when you do so, you have to be acting as your highest and best self as well. 

Look to engage the person in a deeper discussion about why that particular situation is triggering for you, why the button pusher feels the need to push that button, and why the button pusher might be willing to stop pushing that button.   Use phrases like:  “Would it be possible…?”  “Could we find another…?”  “Let’s discover….”  “I believe….”  “I would like….”

With just a simple change in your approach, you will avoid a power struggle.  Then, you can work together to discover how best to meet each of your emotions and needs in the moment.


Are You Blind to Your Blind Spots?

Tomorrow night, 2/25/15 at 8:30 pm, Susan Lager, a fabulous couples therapist, and I will be talking about how people, especially when in conflict, can be completely unaware of their own emotional blind spots. When we refuse to acknowledge aspects of our personalities or behavior which may be obvious to others, we live in a state of denial, ultimately cutting ourselves off from much better choices in life.
Tune into this episode to learn about a simple test which can tell you whether you may have blind spots running the show, and develop some strategies for "seeing the emotional light" more clearly. You'll be amazed when you realize how some smart tools can open up your life to new possibilities!
Join us live with questions or comments by calling: (toll-free) 877-497-9046.
If you can't make the live show catch the recording here

How Do Blind Spots Affect Conflict?

We all have blind spots.  There are things we intentionally ignore and things that we unintentionally ignore.   How do those blind spots impact our reaction to conflict?

Willful blindness can be defined as when “there is an opportunity for knowledge, and a responsibility to be informed, but it is shirked.”  See “Willful Blindness:  Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril,” by Margaret Heffernan.  You may see this in parents who see only the best in their children, or spouses who see only the best in their spouses, or managers who see only the best in their favorite employees.  “Oh, s/he would never do something like that!” they exclaim, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The opposite can also happen.  If you already dislike someone, and are presented with evidence that the person did a good thing, willful blindness may cause you to completely disregard it or say, “I don’t believe it,” or, “They must have an ulterior motive.”  You may see this in parents who target a particular child, or former romantic partners, or employees who are mobbing another employee.

Much of the time, though, the blindness isn’t even willful.  In “The Power of Habit,” Charles Dugigg talks about how Febreze’s first marketing attempts failed miserably, due to “nose blindness.”  People who lived in chronically smelly homes did not know that they lived in chronically smelly homes.  With constant exposure, they became desensitized to the scent.  Without the scent, there was not even an opportunity for knowledge.

You can have blind spots as a result of desensitization in a lot of areas.  Some people live in clutter and just do not see it.  Some people live in chaos and do not recognize it.  Whatever your version of “normal” is makes you blind to certain things.  It can make you blind to dysfunction, sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying, discrimination, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, and so much more.  It can also make you blind to peace, acceptance, and functional relationships.

What are your blind spots? 

Take a step back and look at your house as if you were looking at it for the first time, as if someone else lived there.  What do you see? 

Think about your favorite people.  Do they have certain negative attributes that you overlook because you like them so much? 

Think about your least favorite people.  Do they have certain qualities that you dismiss because you’re more comfortable seeing them in a negative light?

Are your blind spots contributing to an increase in conflict in your relationship with one or more people?

Are your blind spots allowing you to avoid conflict in a relationship with one or more people?

Now that you are aware of some of your blind spots, are there any changes you would like to make?


When Resistance is Futile


In my small town of Kittery, Maine, we have received 3.5 feet of snow in the past couple weeks.  One might think that was enough snow for a month, for a winter, or for a lifetime.  I might agree with those assessments.  And, yet, Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has decided that what we really need is another foot of snow.

And, so, I am at home, with my third snow day in three weeks.

At this stage in my life, I am not a fan of winter.  Each winter, I must move through the four stages of grief:  Denial, Anger, Sorrow, and Acceptance.

I start by finding ways to work around winter.  I stay inside to avoid it.  I jog on the warmer days. 

These past couple of weeks have created a winter that is impossible to work around, if you want to be outside.  Winter is everywhere.  The temperature is averaging 10 – 20 degrees lower than usual.  Mounds of snow cover the sidewalks and crowd the roads.  Many of the town roads are blanketed in snow.  Driving is treacherous.  Jogging is even more so. 

I haven’t been able to jog in over a week.

A couple weekends ago, a friend asked me to go snowshoeing.  I agreed because I felt that I should, then I cancelled at the last minute when the temperature had not risen above single digits.

Another friend asked me to go snowshoeing this past weekend.  I refused, explaining, “I HATE WINTER.  To go snowshoeing would be a celebration of that which I hate most.”  There’s a little anger for you.

So, two days ago, there I was, at my home, depressed and angry.  I needed some exercise.  I needed some time outside.  I just didn’t want it to be here under these conditions with another snowstorm on the way.

I decided that it was time to move toward acceptance.  I suited up, got my dog and my snowshoes, and headed for the Kittery Town Woods.  I chose not to bring any of my human friends, as I didn’t know how long I was actually going to last in this endeavor.

I started out grumbly.  I felt my spirits lifting with the exercise, nature, and blue sky, and yet, still I fought any feeling of happiness.  By the end, though, after an hour, I had to admit that I felt better.  I returned home and texted a friend, “I have officially embraced winter.  Went snowshoeing today.”

Yesterday, I had a new perspective on winter.  The latest storm had come.  There was a good 3-4 inches of fresh powder and more was scheduled to fall later in the day.  I geared up, grabbed my snowshoes, and headed out again with my dog as my companion.  We played in the snow and it felt good.  I had moved to acceptance.

Winter is not a human adversary, but it is my adversary, none the less.  When I hear that it is coming, I am filled with dread.  I develop strategies to work around it, hoping to spend as little time with it as possible.  It is only when I accept it for what it is that I can truly enjoy it and celebrate it.

Sometimes, in life, resistance is futile.  You can try to be the unstoppable force and find yourself stopped.  You can try to be the immovable object and find yourself moved. 

What would happen if you moved, for even a moment, toward acceptance of your adversary?  What if you saw your adversary for all that she, he, or it is – the ugly, the bad, but also the good? 

You may not celebrate or even embrace your adversary, but you may move toward the peace of acceptance.