Managing Conflict Doesn’t Always Work — Here’s A Better Approach

Part Two: The new “How to Tend and Befriend Conflict” series. If you think you know how to deal with conflict, think again.

Michele DeMarco, PhD

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A lit match with a rainbow flame

Welcome to Part Two of the “Tend and Befriend Conflict” column: A four-part series that will change the way you understand, navigate, and engage the conflict in your life. A reminder that it works for all types of conflict: personal, professional, and in the broader community. As always, would love to hear what you think. (If you missed Part One, check it out here.)

Imagine this scene (true story). A happy couple has just moved in together. Walls have a fresh coat of paint. Furniture has been carefully placed. Boxes have been unloaded and clothes have been put away. Hold up — not all clothes are away. Because the bedroom closet is small, and there is only room enough for one dresser that the couple shares, the woman’s overflow of sweaters finds themselves without a home. And because of a demanding schedule, her immediate solution is simply to fold the items and line them two-high on a bench beneath a window until a better scheme can be had.

Life being what it is, and curious cats being what they are, it doesn’t take long for the sweaters to become disheveled and eventually to tumble onto the floor. When this happens, the woman hastily tidies the pile (a bit and when time allows), while her partner growls beneath his breath from the doorway.

One night, some weeks later, the woman comes in from a grueling day at work to find one of her sweaters on the floor in the front hall. She winces, wondering how it got there. As she makes her way into the house, she discovers that all of her “homeless” sweaters — as well as other pieces of clothing — have been strewn across every room, a few even hanging from curtain rods. Her partner is on the couch (amidst said clothes), watching television as if everything was just how she left it.

The woman, aghast and never for a wont of words, erupts at her partner, hurling a series of expletives and arm-chair psychological diagnoses for the “insanity” of such behavior. In retaliation, he catapults a boulder of shame, suggesting that if she’s going to force them to live in a sty, he…

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Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t. micheledemarco.com