Last month I introduced the Conflict Covenant. One of its purposes is to make conflict safer by providing structure and rules. The Covenant consists of two parts: (1) a list of destructive ways we will not use to resolve conflict, (2) the method we will use to handle conflict.
We begin designing our Covenant by listing the unacceptable behaviors we will avoid during a conflict. The list might include such behaviors as:
1. We will guard against insulting, belittling, or looking down on our partner's feelings, in private or in public. We will respect our partner's views and feelings even when we do not agree.
2. We will only use humor when it is natural and kind. We will not use humor as a way of criticizing our partner or as a 'put down' of our partner's viewpoint or feelings. We will not use humor to avoid talking about the problem. We will take seriously what another is sharing.
Commentary: We can hurt others by teasing. Often it is passive aggression and not recreation. If it hurts it is not recreation. If a person gets hurt with teasing and shows the hurt, the passive aggressor says, 'What's the matter? I was just teasing. You are too serious.' So the wounded person not only feels the pain of the teasing, but also the guilt for not enjoying it!
3. We will not bring friends or relatives into our disagreements. We will resolve our own difficulties with our partner or get professional help.
Commentary: This is like our saying to our partner, 'I shared our problem with the neighbors and all of them think you are wrong and that I am right!' Certain information needs to stay within the relationship or within the family. Intimacy is private knowledge and if we share it with others, intimacy and trust can be damaged. When trust is damaged, our partner feels betrayed, therefore, reluctant about being open and vulnerable with us. This especially holds true for teenagers. It is important for us as parents not to share sensitive information with others about our youth. Certain knowledge needs to stay within the family.
4. We will not drive off in anger or threaten to leave or hurt our partner.
Commentary: Trust is severely damaged when we use abandonment language such as, ' This is the last straw. I can't take it anymore. I'm leaving.' 'If you don't like it, leave! Don't let the door hit you in the rear.' 'We might as well get a divorce.' Now the relationship seems very fragile, commitment is diminishing, and resolution seems more hopeless. The relationship appears to be at a breaking point and is now operating by conditional acceptance, 'I will stay with you if -' Often these threats are made to instill fear in our partner so we can get control or end the conflict. It will build resentment and insecurity in our partner. All this could certainly be the groundwork for a divorce.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700