Larry and I get along OK a lot of the time, but whenever we talk about
who's doing what or how we're spending money, the fights can get really
intense, sometimes even scary, and they never seem to settle anything.
Disagreements and grievances are normal in any relationship, whether
it's between a mom and dad, or between two nations or peoples. All too
often, though, they get out of hand, leading to hurt feelings, anger,
and lashing out.
Your best chance of resolving a quarrel is to do the four things below,
even if you just do them yourself. If your partner participates, all the
better! But waiting for the other person to do the right thing only
leads to gridlock - so your best bet is to take steps yourself,
unilaterally if necessary, because that is the best way to evoke good
behavior from the other person, take his issues with you off the table,
and let you take your stand on the high moral ground.
1. Protect yourself - Anticipate situations in which you are likely to
be let down by the other person, and try to avoid them by developing
more support from elsewhere, like other moms. Eliminate abusive or
inflammatory language by not using it yourself; instead, try to stay
calm, be civil, and speak with good intent. Ask your partner to do the
same, and if necessary, let him know that you will withdraw from the
conversation if he speaks to you in a way that is out of line. Stop
fights from escalating by agreeing in advance that either of you can
call time out. And if there is any possibility of violent or threatening
behavior, contact a therapist, woman's shelter, or the police.
2. Assert your needs - Get a reality check on the validity of your needs
or issues by talking with people you trust who love and support you.
Sort out any over-reactions on your part, and then get serious and
determined about the legitimate needs that remain. Identify the specific
behaviors from your partner that would address them - both his outward
actions and his internal attitudes and intentions.
Then find ways to tell him what you want (while reminding yourself that
what you want is legitimate!), such as in ordinary conversation, or by
writing a note, leaving a message at work, talking in a neutral place
like a restaurant, or involving a third party like a mutual friend, a
minister, or a therapist. Stay on your topic and agree to address his
issues later. Do not muddy the water by bringing in unrelated
grievances, getting overly emotional, or overwhelming him with words. Be
direct, succinct, matter of fact, and self-controlled.
Use genuine humor and warmth to lift the mood. Build on any positive
moves he makes by being positive yourself and acknowledging progress
toward getting what you want. State your understanding of how you each
are saying things will be from now on; write them down if that's
3. Extend the hand of reconciliation - The fastest, most direct way to
get another person to behave better and be nicer is to find out what his
complaints are and then do everything reasonable to make them go away.
It's not easy, it's the road less travelled, but it's the way that works
best of all.
Find out what you could do, concretely and specifically, that would
make him feel better about the situations that bother him, or your life
in general. Try to set aside your own reactions to answer three
questions for yourself: In what ways am I at fault here and should make
changes? Separate from being at fault, in what ways could I be more
skillful? And separate from matters of fault or skill, how could I
simply be more giving or gracious? Then take action steadfastly - with
dignity and self-respect, with a sense of choosing to act rather than
being forced into anything - to implement the answers to these questions.
4. Be compassionate - This one is listed last because it's probably the
hardest one to do, but it's actually the most important of all. Everyone
suffers in some way, and you can see the suffering inside another person
any time you look - just like he or she can see it inside of you. He's
hurting, and that pain is fuelling his quarrel with you.
By understanding his stresses, anxiety, frustrations, anger, and losses
better, you will have more perspective on why he's acting the way he
does, and you will be more able to work things out with him peacefully.
Also, he will sense your good intentions, and that will draw more
understanding and compassion out of him. We all live under the same roof
- whether it's the one over your kitchen or it's the thin skin of blue
sky covering our precious planet - and compassion for the difficult
parts of everyone's life is the foundation of being able to live together.
This column is offered freely to parent-related organizations. If you
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