Thursday, July 29th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


Sometimes our arguments are made worse by the ways we try to settle them. Our conflict management methods may be making the problems worse and more intense. So the problem may be more with our method of resolution than the conflict issue itself. Let's take a look at some ineffective ways we deal with conflict.


Bird in the bush

There are some bushes outside our home. When we walk by them, often we hear something rustling. We can't see anything, but we know something is going on. After some time passes, a bird flies away. There are some couples who use the Bird in the Bush method of fighting. Our partner appears to be angry because he/she is demonstrating the cold silent treatment, the stiffness, the short answers, the facial expressions, and the slamming of the drawers. We know there is something wrong but our partner refuses to talk about it. The conversation might go like this: 'Is there something wrong?' The icy reply: 'No. I'm fine.' 'But there seems to be something wrong.' The reply which is a little louder, 'No.' Our response: 'Is it something I did or said?' The quick reply: 'No. I told you I'm fine.' We know our partner is angry and even though she/he says she/he is not mad; it is hard to believe because his/her body language is screaming: 'I am furious!' Later, after we have suffered long enough, the partner tells us what he/she is angry about. Often it is something we have done or said.

The Silent Treatment As A Solution

When asking women, 'What is one thing that men do during an argument that drives you crazy?' The number one answer has been: 'close down.' This is frightening for the woman because she doesn't know where her partner is relationally. 'Is he about to leave me or what?'  We cannot deal with the issue if we cannot face it. Just because we do not talk about it doesn't mean that it has gone away. The unresolved issues will create distance in our relationship. It is like the old story of an elephant in the room. Everyone knows it is in there but no one wants to discuss it. We just keep stumbling over it and walking around it - like walking on eggshells. Even though we don't talk about the elephant, it still affects our relationship.

Even though we don't talk about the elephant, it still affects our relationship. It reminds us of the observation: when we go to a restaurant, how can we tell which couples are married? It is the ones not talking! Why don't married couples talk? Maybe it is not because they know everything the other partner knows; maybe it is because of the elephant of unresolved issues. We are afraid of what we need to talk about but have not been able to resolve.

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

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700