Sunday, March 8, 2009


What happens when partners in a relationship disagree? There are choices available about how to deal with differences. Our first reaction to any conflict is often to handle it in the way our family of origin coped with disagreements. We may erupt with anger or rage, we may sulk and fume, we may shut down, or we can dialogue.

In many families of origin there are no communication skills. When disagreements arise all parties go to their corners to sulk and fume in silence. Nothing is discussed, no compromise is reached and solutions are improbable. In due time, all parties resume the relationship with the silently agreed rule that discussion of the the conflict will not occur. The unsaid rule in this type of family are: don't think (for yourself), don't talk (at all), don't feel. Communication and dialog are not valued and are not exemplified.

In other families of origin, parties scream and yell at one another hurling epithets and erupting with rage. In these situations old transgressions may be revisited with accompanying anger. Parties to the dispute rarely listen to one another and all leave the arena with hurt feelings and little or nothing accomplished. Nothing is discussed, no compromise is reached and solutions are improbable. The unsaid rule in this type of family are: don't think (for yourself), don't talk (just scream and yell), don't feel. Communication may be evident, but effective communication rarely occurs. When any party is screaming and enraged no one can listen to any intended messages.

Another family of origin pattern may be for one member to voice their view and all others accede to their demands... or else!! Or else what? The one who dominates may use the tools of emotional blackmail and the silent treatment to insure cooperation. Refusal to accede to demands results in punishment. Hours, days or weeks of silence. No amount of cajoling works with punishers. They are intent on teaching lessons. The lesson? If any rebellion occurs within the family structure, misery follows for all. Not only will the punisher press for demands to be met, but others in the family system who cannot tolerate punishment will create peer pressure to conform. In this family there is no open communication at all. No one is valued. The unspoken rules are: don't think, don't talk, don't feel.

There is one model which does provide for communication and feedback... dialog. Dialog allows each party to the relationship to have a voice and be heard. Those speaking have the undivided attention of their partner until they are understood. Those listening can be fully attentive knowing that they will have their turn to express their views and be heard. When dialog occurs, each party feels understood and valued for their opinions. In this way a viable compromise can be reached. This type of listening skill strengthens the bond in partnerships allowing both parties to feel valued for themselves. Attentive listening without forming opinions gives the speaker increased self esteem. In partnerships where both parties views are valued and open communication is present, participants have the opportunity to learn from one other, trading experience and wisdom, rather than anger, rage, manipulation and wounds.

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