There are 5 ways to handle conflict, according to Thomas-Kilmann:
When you compete in conflict, you approach conflict with the perception that there is not enough, so I have to get mine first. There are only two options – win (all) or lose (everything). You have to win because losing is too scary to contemplate.
When you avoid conflict, you are looking at conflict as a lose-lose situation from your perspective. You do not feel like you have the ability to win in conflict. You do not feel like you have power of any sort over the situation. What is being done is being done to you. There is an external locus of control. You may retaliate in a passive-aggressive fashion, but you will not approach the conflict directly.
When you compromise in conflict, without collaborating, then you apply an external rule to the conflict, rather than examining what might be best for all involved. Think of the wisdom of King Solomon. When faced with two women claiming to be the mother of an infant, he threatened to cut the baby in half. A really bad compromise would be to accept half of a baby. Compromise is often used to settle lawsuits, when the focus is on what the judge would do, what the law would require, and not what would be best for parties involved.
When you accommodate, you are valuing the relationship over being right. You may fear losing the relationship if you actually advocated for yourself and entered into conflict with the other person. In the extreme, you may be so focused on the needs of others that you are blind to your own needs.
When you collaborate, you approach conflict as a natural, normal part of human relationships. You work together to determine how best to meet everyone’s needs.
We all have a default stance that we adopt with respect to conflict. It is likely something that you learned long ago in early childhood. You may find that with certain people, or in certain situations, you just automatically go to that default stance.
For example, think of holidays with your family. Do you find yourself almost magically reverting to old behaviors? If conflict was unsafe, either emotionally or physically, in your family of origin, you may find yourself avoiding or accommodating conflict with the person(s) who made you feel unsafe, as they still make you feel unsafe on some level. If you were taught to be competitive with your siblings, you may find that you are still competing with your siblings after all these years. If your parents were the ones to decide what was fair based on their own rules, rather than on what your needs were, then you may find yourself looking to the rule book when in conflict, rather than listening to the needs of yourself and the other person with whom you are in conflict.
As an adult, you now get to decide whether your current conflict management skills are working for you. Are you tired of competing, of feeling like if you don’t get all then you are nothing? Are you exhausted from accommodating the needs of others? Would you like to move from avoidance to action? Call me. I can help. 207-439-4267
It's springtime in Maine. The days are longer, the sunlight streaming through the windows. Songbirds are returning, filling the skies with their sounds. Despite the snow still lingering on the ground, despite the snow forecast to fall next week, there is hope that spring is finally here.
The earth is reborn, in all its muddy, messy glory.
Spring is also a time when we can begin to feel reborn as well. It has been a long, hard winter.
In the winter, when dark and cold reign outside, it can be easy to hibernate. Working on the relationship may feel like too much effort.
And then spring comes and with it, a feeling of freedom. Spring fever can set in. Like the tulip that bursts forth from the bulb, you may be feeling like it is time to break through the confines of your relationship, which has felt restrictive for so long.
And perhaps it is.
Or perhaps it is time to tend, once again, to the garden of your relationship, in hope that it will bloom again.
Only you know the answer to that.
I can help you to have that difficult conversation -- Do we or don't we save this relationship? I can help you to get divorced. I can also help you to have difficult conversations in hopes that you will stay together.
The choice is yours.
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:
- 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.
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.