Posts tagged ‘conflict resolution’

October 17, 2013

No Marriage Shutdown

Contributed by Eva Fleming  

iStock_000008099278XSmallWe just came out of government shutdown. Lawmakers from both political parties persisted on talking past each other without actually talking to each other, creating a crisis for many Americans. The folks in government finally came to a temporary compromise and have ended the shutdown. What would happen if, in our marriages and families, we acted like politicians and decided that no matter what, we aren’t going to compromise? Our relationships would be pretty miserable, don’t you think?

In a marriage, we should try harder to make compromises that work for the whole family, as the ramifications of shutting down go past a temporary period of inactivity. A marriage shutdown will hurt your children and your well-being for many days to come.

Much like politicians, marriage partners can use selfish tactics to get their way without compromising by pushing and shoving and even bullying their way through. But all this pushing and shoving can be toxic for the marriage and consequently the family. A family cannot survive if there’s no tolerance and compromise in the marriage. A marriage is guaranteed to break down if the minute we can’t agree, we stop talking to each other. Our kids can’t thrive in a parental, antagonistic environment. In order for a marriage to survive its differences and for children to thrive, there must be an open dialogue where two people express themselves calmly in the midst of the storm.

We should be less like politicians and more like sailors. In a violent storm sailors learn to manage the force of the wind in order to move their vessel. They don’t shut down because they know if they do, they will drown! Life brings a variety of wind and sea conditions that, together with our partners, we need to learn to master if we want to get to shore.

In order to stay calm in the midst of this storm, we must exhibit selfless humility. Selfless humility ushers in grace and opens the door for intimacy. Intimacy is the opposite end result of a shutdown and it is essential for a healthy marriage. Antagonism, on the other hand, is what happens when we don’t work together. Antagonism’s end result is not intimacy, but regret and resentment. When we are acting antagonistic towards each other, the voices of difference cause our disagreements to escalate until we reach the point of becoming hurtful. When the winds have died down we are then left with the consequences of the unmanaged argument. At this point we have a choice to make:  We either shut down or give grace. If you have ever been the recipient of grace, you are more likely to freely give it because you have come to understand that grace is the ultimate expression of love. The more we walk in the garden of grace the more we smell like the scent of the flowers. In the same way, the more grace we give, the more likely we are to receive it.

So let’s exhibit an abnormal amount of empathy, deliberate humility and lavish grace in our disagreements. May our discourses from here on out be less antagonistic and much more tolerant; and may our marriages thrive on compromises that suit the whole family so we don’t have to resort to a shutdown.

October 16, 2013

The Marital Rollercoaster

Contributed by  Christian Zapata, LCSW

rollercoasterMarriage can be like a rollercoaster. You have your ups and your downs. Most couples can recall all those special moments they’ve shared and cherished. These moments continue to serve as steady reminders of the person with whom they fell in love. These special moments could be memories of their wedding day, long afternoon strolls around the neighborhood or the birth of a child. Life would be so much easier to deal with if only our relationships would not fall from these peak moments.

Rollercoasters are intentionally designed to go down – and fast. And unfortunately, life can do the same. At times, a relationship can plummet quickly after having had difficult argument and sometimes the relationship suffers a slight dip, but quickly ascends to a more pleasurable and healthy state. So what makes some couple’s relationships plummet and what makes other’s simply dip?

The short answer is that couples who seem to recover more quickly from disagreements or arguments, have developed healthy mutual communication skills and an ability to recognize where they may have messed up; leading to an apology. Communication and forgiveness seem to be two of the most basic aspects in a relationship, but at times, are two of the most overlooked elements.

Sadly, some couples may feel as though their marital rollercoaster is on a downward spiral that just doesn’t seem to ever bottom out. Yet, as our lives become busier and busier with work, soccer games and doctor’s appointments; it may just appear easier to forget about the argument and avoid talking through it because it is awkward or exhausting. Each problem that is avoided and swept under the rug can become more difficult to handle because the next argument will quickly escalate and complicated by the previous unresolved conflict.

Marriages have their ups and downs. It is up to each spouse within their relationship to decide how long they stay down and how long they stay up. Taking a proactive approach in a relationship by attending seminars, going to counseling or even reading marriage enrichment books can be excellent ways that couples can equip themselves with positive tools for better handling conflict in their relationship. In the difficult times, challenge yourself to remember those special moments, because what you may be experiencing now is just a moment. Your marriage is much bigger than this moment.

November 8, 2012

What if our relationships or marriage had election days?

Contributed by  Alicia La Hoz, PsyD

The anticipation built after months of training, campaigning, fundraising, debating, and strategizing came and went – Election Day.   The nation hurried to the polls to cast their vote. Then, with much excitement and anxiety, everyone waited for the outcome. While half of the country danced with joy and happiness as they experienced their party take the victory, the other half regretted the loss, startled by the outcome and was left trying to understand what went wrong and where to go from here.

Before the cheers and before the tears, there was the evening where the country anxiously awaited and anticipated. Everyone hoped, projected an outcome and aspired that their party would win.

In this election, volunteers poured in and tirelessly worked, fighting for what they believed in so strongly.  Everything from playgrounds, to city streets, to coffee shops, to government hallways, to the cyberworld hummed a tune – the tune of a decision that was going to be made and that would determine the future of the country for  years to come.  It’s a healthy process because it allows the American people to weight in, to vote based on their values and beliefs, and to charge a path for the future.  Without the election, and all that leads to it, dictatorship, anarchy and oppression would rule.

I wondered though – what could learn from the process of this election in regards to relationships and marriage.

In the same way that the country is split with different political views, so are most relationships split with different worldviews, personalities and life experiences.  As much as a couple loves each other, it’s only a matter of time before their differing perspectives clash. In spite of this, many couples do work through their differences, succeed in raising families, resolve conflicts, make tough decisions, and much more.

Successful couples learn to appreciate each other’s differences and backgrounds and figure out how to make compromises that work. But before the compromises come, healthy couples enjoy a period of time where they express their thoughts and feelings about situations.  Healthy couples don’t just pretend to go along with their partner at the cost of their personal opinions and ideas. They first express them openly and honestly.  Couples who fight (while respecting each other) about the ‘hot’ issues that propel them to make decisions, are engaged, involved and thoughtful about where they come from.  They listen to each other attentively and, while they struggle to really ‘get’ where their spouse is coming from, they learn to appreciate the differences that could otherwise tear them apart.

And then there are the couples who argue bitterly throughout the duration of their relationship. They blame each other in toxic and poisonous ways, insulting each other about their difference. Their focus is not on what their common goals are, or in how they could learn about each other; instead they turn against each other.   And as these couples get tired and disillusioned of each other, many will part ways.  When we don’t know how to have a good fight, we give up and don’t fight at all or we become too aggressive.

The election process bears much resemblance to the decision-making and conflict-laden situations that we struggle through with our most loving and intimate relationships.  Couples who successfully work through conflicts do so because they enter the process – regularly as needed throughout the relationship lifetime.

  • Conflict Brings Passion. Lack of conflict is dangerous. When there is no conflict, opinions are not shared, feelings are not explored, routine reigns, people are taken for granted, and issues are not aired and discussed honestly and openly.  When you are able to honestly talk about the differences in your relationship, then there is potential for movement, for understanding to occur and for change to happen.  When conflict happens, you know you are alive. You know you have ideas, opinions and feelings and you have a reason for these and this awakens you. You feel the most alive when you can fully share your beliefs, dreams and ideas.  When you can share this with your spouse in a safe and non-threatening way, your love re-kindles. Relationships that choose to ignore the issues, to dispel them, and to avoid talking and even arguing about them can lack passion and be plagued by complacency.
  • Conflict With Boundaries.  While conflict is healthy, it’s unhealthy to have a perpetually and endless lack of resolution, especially when a decision needs to be made. When issues are barely addressed and couples struggle to come to terms with a final outcome or compromise, this can lead to frustration and indifference. It can be very helpful to define a period of time of when that decision needs to be made.  Knowing for example, that you don’t have to make a decision after one conversation but that you can talk things through for two or three months before you have to decide, can take some of the pressure off.  The time not only helps you to organize your thoughts and ideas, but also gives you enough space to thoroughly consider and better understand where your partner is coming from.
  • Conflict and a Decision Day. Ultimately, after you’ve weighed the pros and cons and considered all the angles, everyone needs to cast a vote. A decision needs to be made. Movement and growth can’t occur in the absence of a decision.  When you don’t make a decision, one is made for you, and when that happens you have less control of the outcome.
  • Conflict and Loss.  Decisions don’t mean that everything will go your way. A decision means that you have decided to say “no” to many things that you did want, wish, or believed strongly in so that you could follow one path.  This means that you grief and that you. Doing so brings a sense of sadness and nostalgia for that which you left behind.  But it also means that you can move forward, anticipate and hope.
  • Conflict and Respect. Once you’ve made a decision as a couple, you honor each other and respect each other. You follow-through and you charge forward working towards building your dream, your future and keeping the threads of the family together.

So bring on the conflict, embrace it, deal with it and work through it. Only when you do, will you live fully, hope, change and grow.

Need some more help in resolving conflict? Download our “Deal With It” mobile apps. From your mobile phone, go to and download them today.

July 11, 2012

Dealing with Difficult People: Switching Off An Angry Person

 Contributed by Nadia Persun, PhD

Anytime I see people having angry altercations, I perk up my ears and observe intently. I watch their displays, not in a sadistic or feeling superior kind of way, but fascinated with how it unfolds: “Will it work for them? Are they going to get what they want with this approach”? I have practically never seen it work, not during my observations in therapy or in personal life. Even on rare occasions where it seems to work in the moment, yielding some win-loss resolution, it never works sustainably. Peace can never be found on a shaky and fake foundation of emotional tyranny, as “Nobody ever forgets where he buried a hatchet.” (Kin Hubbard/Frank McKinney Hubbard). Here are some strategies for dealing with difficult people, organized around the main psychological premises driving their anger: fear and need for control.

Disengage and don’t take it personally. People are energy conservative creatures. Just like most animals attack out of self-defense, hunger or other biological needs, human anger is also goal driven. Most people, even most violent individuals, don’t walk around the majority of the day attacking and abusing others. They lash out in spurts. Behind their violent shield, a threatening individual is feeling threatened. Maybe not by you, but by something or someone. Their anger is related to you only in a way in which some action or expressed feeling of yours has triggered some discomforting emotion within them. Threatening individuals are commonly overwhelmed and scared. Big bullies have deeply hurt and vulnerable cores. They are expanding their toxic energy to produce their angry display as a distorted way to pursue some goal related to their personal sense of safety and significance. Even though the content may be channeled at you, the driving force behind it is related to their personality, upbringing, and prior experiences. Most of their accusations are based on subjective opinions and are very loosely, or not at all, related to you personally.

Avoid ego battles and rides to the past. When it comes to aggression, an unfortunate point of difference between humans and less evolved mammals is the ego. Some people are willing to put their life on the line and injure another person physically or emotionally to protect their ego and restore their injured self esteem. Inflated egos are most vulnerable to the slightest pokes and scratches, which is a common infliction of defensive and confrontational people. Remember that ego injuries are always the deeds of the past. This is why the great focus of most angry people, when they arguing, will be buried in the past. Therefore, at all costs, avoid accompanying them on their voyage there. Drain them by letting them monologue their expired accusations. Avoid discussing with them about who did what, when and why, and how it made them feel, but repeatedly ask how they propose solving this problem now. Remember also that most angry people have a victim mentality. They perpetually feel the world owes them something and other people must fulfill their preferences or needs. What angry people say is almost never factual but emotional in content, related to their fears, frustrations, and bruised ego. Attempting to dialogue with them almost always fails, as raging people are narrowly focused, entitled, and prone to listening only to themselves.

Choose calm and sanity. An angry person is looking for a fight. Through their escalation and unfair accusations, they are asking you to engage. “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength” (Eric Hoffer). So, what is needed in the presence of a hot headed person? A cool headed person. The constructive response is not to indulge them in any action. When they shout, you keep silent or speak softly. When they come close, you increase the distance. When they say a lot, you say nothing or very little. Some people decide to respond, thinking that ignoring a provocation makes them lose and a bully to win. This is contrary to what actually happens. You win by disengaging. You become untouchable and gain control by increasing emotional and physical space. Imagine this situation. You are on a road and the driver in front of you drives dangerously and erratically: swaying wildly sideways, speeding up and pressing the breaks, honking randomly. Should you catch up, open up your window and attempt a discussion on proper driving? Of course not. You shift lanes and drive away, quietly demonstrating your intelligence and preference for safety. De-escalate the angry person in a similar manner, by exiting the scene emotionally or physically, not participating in their drama. Remember also that basic defenses of angry, self-justifying people are projection and denial. You tell them that they are scaring you with their shouting, they tell you are the one yelling. You tell them their words are hurtful, they tell you you told them things ten times worse, plus you are the one who made them angry to begin with. So, what are the ways to negotiate with reality distorters? The short answer is “there are none,” and the longer answer is, “There are none, don’t even try.”

Give out an imaginary cupcake. Cupcakes are sweet , peaceful, calming and smile inducing. Raging people are often in dire need for an imaginary cupcake. A big part of their anger is driven by their belief or feeling that they never get any or someone stole or damaged their cupcakes. So, generously give them one or even a couple, even when they seem to be undeserving of any sweetness. Despite the obnoxious behavior, loud shouting, screeching voices, clenching fists, pointing fingers, red faces and all, most angry people have a sad message. Most likely they are trying to tell you that they are feeling hurt, ignored, disrespected, unappreciated and unloved. Listening and responding to these needs calmly and empathically can serve as the key to getting more cooperation from emotionally agitated people. Just say “I think I understand what is going on here, but feel free to correct me, my friend” and so on. Then offer some reflective listening, validating their concerns to an extent. Tell them something nice and peaceful. Agree with them in theory. Do not assign any blame or argue. Establish a basic premise for peace by appealing in some way to the dormant, healthy side of their personality by extending to them some sense of grace, validation, and acceptance.

March 9, 2010

The silent treatment

Contributed by Dr. Alicia La Hoz, Family Bridges’ Program Director

You are upset and bothered. You decide that it’s better to simply ignore your partner and hope he/she gets the point. The silence game is your last resort because you are officially over it and you figure this is the best way to get back at them.

There is no limit to the amount of time that this silent treatment can last – it can be for a day, two days, a week, a month. There are no rules except to ignore the person. That is why it’s so tempting to rely on the silent treatment. And it’s effective…in all the wrong ways. The silent treatment will effectively:

  • succeed to create unbearable tension in the home  - so much that everyone can feel it;
  • help you continue to imagine all the possible ways you were right and they were wrong – creating quite a defense case;
  • create more and more distance between you and your partner/or those who you are giving the treatment to; and
  • help keep your anger alive.

 We resort to giving the silent treatment out of pure frustration. While it seems to provide a way out from what seems like and unsolvable problem – it tends to only leave a bitter aftertaste for everyone. Sure it works to keep anger alive and to break down relationships…but, if you are at all interested in actually restoring your relationship, then resorting to a healthier option is a better answer. And yes, a healthier option does exist, it’s called communication. Working on active communication skills help clear frustration and anger and will in turn lead to problem solving. It’s also quite the opposite of giving someone the silent treatment and therefore much more effective.

Because we tend not to listen, because we weren’t all born with the innate ability to communicate clearly and effectively – conflict is bound to occur in relationships. Most of us have to learn and/or need coaching on how to communicate so we don’t resort to known and tried silent treatments or other negative types of communication when we feel frustrated.  This is why we really like what the Family Bridges program is about. Helping people break the silence.


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