An inability to resolve conflict is an underlying issue in many relationships. Couples seem to have difficulty thinking in terms of how can we both be OK. I refer to this behavior as continuing to act solely as singles and not relationally when it concerned both of them. One woman recently in an advice column expressed her frustration with her live-in fiance’s nasty and irritable behavior in the morning because he had not yet had his cup of coffee. You would think that he would make sure to have that cup of coffee right away. Instead, he insisted on stopping for coffee on his way to work a good 45 minutes later.
What struck me so about this couple was that she presented her unhappiness with his behavior like she had no right to expect him to make changes. His explanation for his morning unpleasantness was that this is just how he was in the mornings. He acted like he had no control over himself. There seemed to be no understanding from him as to how unpleasant it was for her to have him act like that day after day. I was also struck by the fact that she felt guilty about wanting him to make changes.
I see many couples struggling with working out conflict. What they have trouble putting into practice is that a healthy relationship means learning to think in terms of WE – how can we both be OK? What this man did not take into consideration was how unpleasant it was for her to be around him in the mornings.
When conflictual situations arise the question to ask is: what do we need to do so that both of us can be OK. It is learning to think relationally. One solution for this couple would be to have a coffee pot on an automatic timer set for when he awakened. The fact that he needed the coffee was not the problem. The problem was their inability to come up with a solution that both could support. Being able to take responsibility to think in terms of how can we both be OK is the key to coming up with solutions when conflicts arise.