Relationship Advice: Resolving Conflict When Someone Is ClosedBy Dr. Margaret Paul
April 04, 2016
Learn how to resolve conflict when your partner or another person isn't available for mutual conflict resolution.
Loving relationships create a safe arena in which to resolve conflict. In the safe arena, both people are open to learning about themselves and each other, and as they caringly listen to each other and gain new understanding of each other’s feelings and points of view, new solutions to problems can emerge. But how do you resolve conflict when the other person is closed and not likely to ever open?
This is the issue that Mira asked me about:
"What is the best way to resolve conflict with someone who is not open and is not likely to ever open, but someone you are obligated to deal with on a regular basis, like my elderly father."
Obviously, if someone isn't open to resolving conflict and isn't likely to open, you can't resolve the conflict with them. What you are left with is resolving the conflict on your own.
For example, let's say that Mira helps her elderly father by taking him to his doctor appointments, but when Mira comes to pick him up, he is rarely ready and sometimes refuses to go. Mira has tried talking with him about it but he just gets grumpy and shuts down. Mira ends up feeling resentful.
Mira needs to go inside and explore what would be most loving to her in the face of her father's choices. Whatever she decides is loving to her will also be loving to her father, because in taking loving care of herself, she no longer feels resentful. She might decide to let go of worrying about whether or not her father gets to the doctor and just accept that he might not go. She can then spend a little time with him and leave. She might need to let the doctor know about her decision that she is no longer going to try to force her father to keep his appointments. It will be up to the doctor whether or not he or she keeps making appointments with her father.
She might decide that being the one to take him to his appointments isn't loving to herself and, if she or her father has the funds, she can hire someone to take him. Then she is no longer the one with the problem.
Whatever her decision, it doesn't involve further discussion with her father, since he has already made it clear that he is not open to a mutually-agreeable solution. She has empowered herself to make her own choices.
Let's take another example:
Eva and Marc have been married for 3 years and they consistently have conflict regarding being on time and keeping the house neat. Marc is consistently late and consistently messy, but when Eva tries to discuss the issues with him, he gets defensive and then shuts down. Since he is showing by his behavior that he isn't concerned about the effect his behavior has on Eva, Eva needs to focus on what would be caring to herself.
Since she is generally the one who tells Marc what time they need to leave for an event, she can start to tell him they are leaving a half hour before they actually need to leave. Or, she can decide to take separate cars – letting Marc know ahead of time that the next time he is late for an event that is important to her, she will take her own car. She needs to be certain that she is doing this to take care of herself, not to punish or manipulate Marc.
Sometimes, a creative approach is worth trying. If Marc and Eva’s relationship generally includes being humorous with one another, Eva might try making a game of Marc's messiness. She can let him know that when he leaves his clothes and other things lying around, she will have fun finding places to hide them. Or, if they have the money, she can hire someone to come in for a couple of hours daily to keep the house neat. This way, she is taking responsibility for taking loving care of her own needs in the face of Marc's choices.
Of course, we would rather resolve conflict mutually, but when this isn't available, you always have the option of deciding how to take loving care of yourself in the face of the other's choices.
Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Relationships Course: "Loving Relationships: A 30-Day at-Home Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul - For people who are partnered and people who want to be partnered."
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By Dr. Margaret Paul