Choose the Road Less Traveled in Conflict

Are you stuck in a rut in your relationship with someone?

Do you find yourself having the same fight over and over again? Are you doing the same thing over and over, even though you know it doesn’t help you and doesn’t get you the love or the results that you need? Well, here’s your problem in a nutshell:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Narcotics Anonymous

You are on a habit loop, doing what you do because that is what you do.  You do it that way instinctively, without thinking.  Your brain goes there automatically, unconsciously.

If you want things to change, you have to wake up your brain.  You have to make it respond consciously, rather than unconsciously.  You have to train it to do something different.

You have to jump the track and take the road less traveled.

The road less traveled will be harder going in the beginning.  You won’t know exactly how to do it.  You won’t know whether it will work or not.  It may feel uncomfortable.  Actually, it is almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable at different points or even, if you don’t like change, all the time at first until you get settled into a new habit loop. 

Along the way, you may think, “Oh, this isn’t working.  I want to go back to where it’s safe and secure.”  And you can do that.  That is always an option for you.

However, you may find that you like your new road. Your decision to change may bring you joy. It may spark others to join you.

In either instance, you will be choosing your actions consciously, acting proactively, rather than reacting. This will result in your being better able to make choices in your own best interest. In the end, that will help you to navigate conflict successfully.

Do you want some help figuring out how to change things up and handle conflict differently? Reach out to Karen at 207-632-1111 or Meredith at meredithmediates@aol.com to set up an appointment.

When in conflict, ask yourself, "What are the unmet needs?"

When you are in conflict, what are your unmet needs?  What are the unmet needs of the person with whom you are in conflict?

You may think that when you are arguing with your spouse about the dishes not getting done, that it is all about the dishes getting done.

It isn't.

There are probably other nights, maybe even a lot of other nights, when the dishes have not gotten done and you have not argued.

What is the difference between the nights that you argue about the dishes and the nights that you don't?  The unmet needs that each of you bring to the table.

Picture this.  I've worked a long day and I'm just getting home at 7:30 pm.  It's not only one long day that I've worked, though.  I worked all weekend as well, so I've really worked 9 long days in a row. 

I don't feel very well.  My stomach is bothering me.  I'm exhausted. 

I bought a can of soup on the way home because I just can't imagine either preparing a real meal or eating anything that isn't easy to digest.

I open the silverware drawer and find a couple knives and nothing else.  I know that there were clean dishes and silverware in the dishwasher that morning because I took a knife out for my breakfast, but the sign on the dishwasher is now set for dirty dishes, not clean.

"Honey, are there clean dishes or dirty dishes in the dishwasher?" I ask.

"What does the sign say?" he responds.

"Well, it says dirty, but I know that there was a lot of clean silverware in there this morning and there is no clean silverware in the drawer now."

"I thought I was doing a good thing by emptying and loading the dishwasher and that you would notice that," he responds.  "You're right.  I didn't empty the silverware."  He sounds dejected and defensive because I have noticed the bad stuff and not the good.

I have no patience for his feelings.  I'm irritated that once again, he can't be bothered to put the silverware away and now it's all dirty as a result.  I yank a soup spoon out of the dishwasher and start washing it.

It is only after I have eaten the soup that I can bring myself to thank him for taking care of the dishes and I only half mean it at best.  He responds half-heartedly as well.

This is not the first time that my husband has done this chore in this fashion.  He does not like putting silverware away.  Most of the time, it is just one of his personality quirks that I endure, just as he endures mine.  It may result in a fleeting moment of irritation on my part from time to time, but usually there is nothing more.

This time, however, I had a lot of unmet needs.  I needed rest.  I needed food.  I needed compassion.  I needed nurturing, even if only from myself.

He also had unmet needs.  He needed compassion and connection and recognition.  He had stepped up to do some chores, recognizing that I had been pulling many long days of work.  We had not spent significant time together for days.  Over that 9-day stretch, when we had had dinner together, he was the one who had made it.  I had just been too busy.

All of those needs, both his and mine, came to a head over dirty silverware.  It wasn't really about the silverware.  It wasn't even about the one soup spoon I had to wash in the moment.  It was about our needing rest and food and compassion and nurturing and connection and recognition.  That was the real discussion to be had.  Once I got some food, I could start to see that.

 

 

How to Give Your Spouse the Best Christmas Present Ever

When things are going well in a marriage, when you've been together for years and years, you can take your spouse for granted.  Of course we made it this far.  We are going to make it forever.

Or, in the alternative, you can be good about giving gifts when things are good and bad about it when things are bad.  I remember a bad patch with my husband when I didn't want us doing anything for Valentine's Day because it felt like there just wasn't any point to it.

In the divorce mediation business, I see a lot of people who either don't make it to their next holiday together or who have to celebrate at least one holiday while in the midst of their divorce.  Seeing this makes me appreciate the fragility of relationships.  I can be grateful for what I have because I could have so much less.

This Christmas, give your spouse the best Christmas present ever.  First, answer this question:  Which of the 5 Love Languages speaks most to that person: 1. Quality time; 2. Words of affirmation; 3. Gift giving; 4. Acts of service; or 5. Affection? 

Now, use that information to give your spouse a Christmas present perfectly designed to tell your spouse, "I love you."

If your spouse values quality time above all else, then give your spouse the gift of quality time.  Schedule a babysitter and go out to dinner and the theater.  Spend a day exploring a new town or city.  Go shopping with her.  Go fishing with him.  Go on vacation, even if it's a mini vacation of just a day.

If your spouse values words of affirmation above all else, then you already know that you have to give your spouse a card at every holiday and it has to be the right card.  Then you need to write at least a paragraph.  If you have the ability to write a poem, even better.  You can also whisper sweet nothings, but written words can be looked at again and again.  Did you have a memorable song, poem, or reading from your wedding?  You could have that framed. 

If your spouse values gift giving above all else, then your options are limitless.  Pick a great gift based on your spouse's interests.  Don't get a gift card.  Your spouse will want you to put more thought into it than that.

If your spouse values acts of service above all else, then you are going to get to do some chores.  What are some things that your spouse typically does for you that you could do instead?  Make dinner?  Clean the bathroom?  You could stay home doing the chores with the kids while she gets to go out with her friends for a spa day.  You could get tickets to see his favorite team and take him to the game. 

If your spouse values affection above all else, then spend the day doing little things to show affection.  Hold hands.  Kiss.  Cuddle.  Put on some music and slow dance.  Give your spouse the gift of massage.  It could be a foot massage or a back massage.  It could be that you spring for a couples massage for both of you.

Wishing you and yours the best Christmas ever!

Could Your Relationship Survive a Crisis?

Last Sunday, I broke my arm while paddleboarding.  That's a story in and of itself, but we'll save that for another day.

The bigger story, at least for the purposes of this blog, is how it impacted my relationship with my spouse and what that says about our relationship.

First, there was the immediate impact.  I called him from home, dripping wet.  "Where are you?"  I asked.  He knew from my tone that something was wrong.  He came home immediately to help me to change into something dry and accompany me to the hospital.

Two big empathy tests there and he passed both of them successfully.  Not everyone does.

1. Can your spouse discern when you are in crisis just from the tone of your voice?  Check.

2. Is your spouse there for you when you are in crisis?  Check.

Then, there is the short-term impact.  It turns out that while there is a lot you can do one-handed, there is also a lot that requires two hands.  Since your spouse still has two working hands, these chores fall to him, even those of a more personal nature. 

For example, there is clothing that requires more than one hand, but which doesn't need to be removed throughout the course of the day, and a spouse can help you to put that on in the morning and remove it in the evening.  There is other clothing that just needs to wait to be worn until you have two working hands again.

Then there are dishes to be done (can't hold a dish and wash or dry it at the same time), laundry to be done (can't fold or carry a stack of laundry or put a pillow in a pillowcase or make a bed), meals to be made (you try making dinner one-handed), floors to be swept (it's getting what you've swept into a dustpan using only one hand that's the challenge), dog to be walked (can't hold the leash and pick up poop one-handed, let alone tie the poop bag).

His chores have more than doubled.

What I can do takes twice as long and I'm learning as I go.

In the first few days, how does it go?  If you are someone who hates asking for help, as I do, then you can feel like a burden.  Truthfully, you are a bit of a burden. There's a lot more work for your spouse now, as I've pointed out.  However, in the short-term, it shouldn't be a problem.  My husband opted for the white lie:  "You're not a burden."

3. Can your spouse handle the additional work in the short-term?  Check.

4. Can you ask for what you need? Check.

Let's talk longer term.  We have been at this a week now.  It's time for a fight.  He's been doing double-duty for a week.  I have been doing less than usual, except that my body is healing a broken bone, so it's pretty sure that I'm the one working overtime.

So, we argued.  He's got a little compassion fatigue and I'm a bit frustrated and fatigued as a result of my current limitations.  It was a quick flash, followed by some time alone in separate corners, and then time to talk it through and make up.

5. Can your spouse ask for what he needs?  Check.

6. Can the two of you work through the problems that arise as a result of the shift in responsibilities?  Do you still have compassion and understanding for the other person while doing so? ("While doing so" may be extended to include not just the immediate moment.)  Check.

In times of crisis, we learn a great deal about ourselves and our partners.  We learn who will be there for us and who will not.  My spouse will be there for me.  Will yours be there for you and will you let him/her do so?