Family: Resolving Conflicts: We Don't Have To Argue About It
Call your partner on his or her job and either start or continue an argument.
PROBLEM: This is one of the most unfair things to do to someone. The person being called is usually at a big disadvantage: it's probably not convenient for them to talk, there's a lack of privacy, they probably can't react the way they want or need to, it adds to the pressure they already face on the job, it interferes with them getting their work done, and they become upset, they have to pull it together and try not to show hurt feelings in front of coworkers or their boss. Another problem this may cause is that the person who was called may smolder about the conflict all during the work day and either explode or shut down when he or she gets home.
ALTERNATIVE: If you must call your partner at work, don't get into the problem topic while on the phone. Instead, schedule with him or her a time when you can both sit and discuss your differences, free from distractions, deadlines, and the watchful eyes of others.
Get everything off your chest, all at once.
PROBLEM: Many times, in an effort to present their side of things, partners will say what's on their minds in one long, seemingly endless monologue. What the partner on the receiving end of this sees is a huge wall of words and information coming at them. If the lecture is long enough, the listening partner has almost no chance to respond to what has been said, and if they do have a point to make, they've probably forgotten what it was by the time the speaker is done. The result: one person gets to say everything he or she wants to, and one person gets to say very little and feels "shut down".
ALTERNATIVE: Before you and your partner sit down to talk, each of you is to have no more than a few specific issues to address. Restricting the issues to just a few items forces a person to prioritize what's really important, and to discard relatively minor issues. When each person presents what's on their mind, keep it to a couple of minutes in length. Again, this forces one to choose and be specific about what is said, and keeping it brief helps the listener to not feel so overwhelmed and shut down.
Involve as many other people as you can to support your point of view.
PROBLEM: Few things bog down effective communication as partners who present what other people have said and done, as a way of supporting their viewpoint. Statements like, "Why can't you be like...", and "I was talking to So-and-so and she said...", not only get in the way of effective communication, but can easily build resentment and a resistance to listening to what each other has to say. Who wants to be compared to, or subjected to the opinions of, people outside of the relationship?
ALTERNATIVE: Keep it local! Use your own opinions and views when discussing issues with your partner. Boundaries need to be drawn between the couple and whoever else who stands to intrude on the relationship. Infamous intruders are: in-laws, relatives, friends, and coworkers, all of whom offer their sage advice. Remember: you are the one in the relationship, not "Gina's cousin's friend, Emma."
Expect your partner to read your mind.
PROBLEM: A lot of people get caught up in the romanticism of ideas such as, "We're so compatible, we always know what each other is thinking", or "We've been together long enough that you should know what I want or what you should do". While these thoughts may help the sales of romance novels, in the real world they often keep hurt feelings and heated conflict going strong. The bottom line is this: regardless of how potent the love or how long the relationship has endured, expecting someone to read your mind and know what you're thinking is setting yourself up for eventual disappointment. If you base the value of a partner's love for you on whether or not he or she knows, 100% of the time, your preferences or feelings about something, the first time the partner doesn't fulfill this huge expectation, you're bound to call into question the truth of that person's caring for you. That's an awfully big consequence to accept, especially since you didn't directly tell the person what it was that you wanted.
ALTERNATIVE: Dispense with the sideshow mind-reading bit! If you want someone to know or do something, tell them. Anything short of a partner hearing what you want from your own lips is just speculation. Clearly, of the two of you, only you know what it is that you want or need. So, speak up!
Joke about aspects of your relationship or your partner to other people.
PROBLEM: While attempting to join in on party chit-chat, a lot of people bring up "little" things about their partner or their relationship because they think it's humorous, cute or not a big deal. Guess what? Those tidbits are probably humorous, cute, and no big deal to you! Your partner might not take those things as lightly as you do. Many a man has been embarrassed about his lovemaking prowess (or lack thereof), and many a woman has been humiliated by a crack about her weight or about getting older.
ALTERNATIVE: Don't do it! Sensitivity is the word here. Despite the party atmosphere, you're still making jokes or comments, airing dirty laundry, or taking potshots at your love mate in front of other people! What's worse is that if you touch upon something that your partner is particularly sensitive about, in addition to it being brought up in front of friends and strangers, these people are also laughing at them. Is that what you really want to do to someone you care about? Be careful at that party or gathering, or get ready for a very long and very quiet ride home!
The list of options here is not intended to be exhaustive by any means. It's meant to give the reader some insight into some behaviors that we all engage in at some point, but to raise an awareness of how they can make problems in a relationship even tougher to work through. These are hints and tips. If couples have longstanding or very disruptive problems and issues, it is strongly recommended that they seek the services of a trained therapist or counselor. Many people are resistant to seek out this kind of help, because they feel that it's a sign of weakness or an indication that they can't handle their own problems. For those of you who may feel this way, think about this: Even the most skilled surgeon in the world can't take out his or her own appendix; that person would have to rely on someone else to intervene, do what needs to be done, and then allow the healing to begin.
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Dr. K specializes in African American issues relating to families and relationships.