Conflict is part of life, part of marriage, and certainly part of divorce. The problem is not being at odds, but rather that we avoid it or go approach it in ways that simply don’t work. Three of the most common, ineffective ways of dealing with “conflict”, or really disagreement are Doing Battle, Hinting, and Avoiding conflict altogether.
We are all familiar with the concept of “Doing Battle”. This mode is often fueled by a sense of self-righteous anger. Another way to frame it is we are on a mission to set things right. Being fiercely and thoroughly right is a big part of this, however, the problem is it makes the other person wrong. Making other people wrong is never a true win; if we are married, we are making our partner wrong. If we are divorced or getting divorced, we are making the parent of our children wrong. The best-case scenario here is that it ends in a stalemate, the worst is that both people walk away feeling angrier than when they started.
The more passive approach to dissension, hinting is usually framed as sarcasm or humor. The end game is to get an apology, let them know that you are unhappy about something. Alert them that you want something. Hinting is a way to sidestep conflict. A way to keep things from being explosive. It starts in private and will expand to public gatherings which can lead to embarrassment. The end result is rarely, if ever “success”. More often than not this pattern does lead to the very explosion it hopes to avoid.
Avoidance is a common tool for sidestepping conflict. In this scenario, anger and frustration are repressed and/or expressed in other ways and places. The result is a relationship with no emotional subtext. People in this state tend to focus on getting satisfaction in other areas of their lives. Either the emotion builds into an explosion down the line or both people find grow apart gaining life satisfaction elsewhere. This is super common in divorce. After all, the basis of the divorce is “it isn’t working”. It is still a lose/lose particularly when there are children involved. At first, as the couple separates there is the relief of not having to live with the dynamic on an hour to hour basis, but over time when exchanging children or negotiating schools, the dynamic returns in full force and always to the detriment of both the parents and the children.
No doubt you recognize some if not all of these symptoms of a broken relationship. We have all engaged in at least one if not all of them. You know they don’t work. The first step is to watch for them and stop yourself either when you see yourself moving toward one of them or actively engaging in one of them. These are things we learned from our parents and are a part of who we are. There is no quick fix for “stopping”. There are alternative ways of expressing the feelings that are driving these behaviors and that will be the theme of next week’s blog.