“You said what!” Peter barked, as his wife of 23 years, Geraldine, suggested resigned, but blithely, “Please mow the darn lawns, now, please!—I’ve waited long enough.”
The mood in the house had reached flash point; both were about to explode.
It may not surprise any of us to find out that this flashpoint moment was reached within a minute or two, with both Peter and Geraldine tired, which exacerbated their intolerance. There was also this worn groove of marital discontent, where Geraldine had would nag and Peter would respond ambivalently to begin with before his anger crashed out of control—and that transition happened at light speed. Sooner or later Geraldine was fearful for the rage she felt she had incited in Peter. He was confused and frustrated—so was she!
Such complex dynamics in relationships can seem impossible to grapple with. Both partners easily find themselves in a place of learned helplessness, without hope for how they might coexist together happily. Never-ending conflicts bring a strained tiredness to a relationship, and if it’s not resolved one or both partners may eventually give up.
But there is one thing we can do in the midst of fiery conflict: when one or both slow the pace of communication down there is much more opportunity for inner reflection. Inner reflection is the encouragement of each person to look at their own role, responsibility, and actions in the conflict.
Whenever someone takes a good look at themselves, and they take the focus off the other person, there is that momentary opportunity—having slowed the pace down sufficiently—to see one’s own contribution to the conflict, and then to own it. Our responsibility is not conditional on them taking their responsibility; our responsibility is to take ownership for what we need to take ownership for.
It’s far too easy to get into the blame game within relational conflict.
It’s much better to understand that within relationships all parties have a role. Rarely if ever does it occur that one person is completely at fault. And even if that were the case, slowing down the process of conflict simply encourages the process of reflection where truth might enter into the psychological domain between the two people.
Slowing down the pace of conflict when moods reach flashpoint is the chance the relationship needs in negotiating a perilous path of communication. When we slow down we have time to think, to reflect, to take ownership of our part in the conflict. We can only resolve things when we begin to see our individual role in the conflict.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.