True story. . .
Two weeks before her wedding, Kelly (name changed) called me—upset. The night before, she and her fiancé, Jeff, had a fight. At the end of the argument, he snapped: “You think you know everything about me, but you don’t.”
I now think she’s calling to tell me that she’s canceling the wedding. Instead, she asks: “Do you think this is a red flag?” Red flag? No, this is a RED CURTAIN!
I asked if she was curious as to what he’d meant when he said she didn’t know “everything” about him. Kelly told me that Jeff often vented and yelled, but that he didn’t mean anything by it. I was still curious since if he doesn’t mean anything by it, why does he yell? She had no answer.
A few days later, Kelly called to tell me that all was fine and back to “normal.” No, Jeff hadn’t apologized and, no, she still hadn’t asked him what he meant by that cryptic, snarling statement. She decided to let the pattern of their arguing remain in place despite the stress it continually caused her.
Kelly had talked herself into believing that there was nothing wrong with this dynamic. “It’s just how he is,” was her mantra. Besides, she was worried that if she confronted him, she’d hurt his feelings. She didn’t want to antagonize the situation by asking him to explain himself, as she “knew” he loved her.
Fear of confrontation. Fear of conflict. These are fears shared by many of us and Kelly was no different. But it’s essential to understand that conflict is a natural part of every relationship. Odd as it may sound, you can’t have a healthy relationship without conflict.
Over time, you and your partner have developed ways to deal with uncomfortable situations, conversations, and conflict. I call these “dance steps” and you’ve developed them without much conscious thought. The question is: do these dance steps let you and your partner get what you need in a way that’s honest and healthy?
Here are some questions to get you thinking about your relationship to conflict: What do you enjoy about conflict? Not enjoy? Do you know what your partner (personal or professional) enjoys or doesn’t enjoy about conflict? What would you like to see more of when you and your partner have a difficult conversation? What would you like to see less of?
There are four “dances” you can do with your partner in an argument. You can be passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or, you can be assertive. In upcoming posts, I’ll explain each dance step and invite you to consider how you can become a more healthy and strategic partner in a conflict.