by John Hoffman
In my last post I started looking at conflict between parenting partners.
This time I want to talk about what some experts call corrosive conflict. That’s the ongoing, unresolved conflict that poses the real danger to relationships. Corrosive conflict is like rust. It can gradually damage a relationship that once was strong.
Travis (not his real name) and his wife used to have these repeated arguments about him not cleaning up after himself. Here’s how he described it. “We have different schedules in our heads about when cleaning up should be done. She wants it done sooner. So she jumps in and cleans up after me before I get to it. She’s resentful because she had to clean up after me. I don’t think it’s fair. It really bugs me that instead of giving me a chance to get to it, or asking me to clean up she does it and acts like a martyr. Then she’s so angry we can’t talk about it. So I walk away. Then she gets even madder. And I get mad. But I have to suck it up because she feels I have no right to be angry.”
Now, the simple fact that a couple argues repeatedly about a topic does not mean the conflict is corrosive. But it could be. How do you know?
Ask yourself these questions. Do you:
- fight with your partner about the same things over and over again without any sort of resolution to the conflict?
- always defend yourself and act like the issue has nothing to do with you?
- often resort to name-calling, shouting or being hostile?
- end up fighting about accusations and name-calling rather than the original issue?
- stay angry for a long time after these conflicts?
If you’re doing these things frequently you and your partner need do something about it, not just for the sake of staying together, but also to make your relationship more enjoyable. Conflict is not fun! And corrosive conflict can have a negative effect on your children (but perhaps we will discuss that at another time.)
Here’s the “anti-corrosion” treatment as outlined in Dad Central Ontario’s Dads! Renovate Your Relationship.
- Identify one issue you repeatedly argue about.
- Talk about it at a time when you are both feeling good and calm (and not under the influence of alcohol).
- Speak to your partner without being demeaning or intimidating.
- If you feel the need to be critical, criticize what your partner does, not her character.
- Listen – really listen – to your partner’s viewpoint, without cutting her off the first time she says something you don’t agree with or think is unfair.
- Accept responsibility for what you can change. If you want her to change her behaviour, tell her what you can change about yours.
- If a conflict can’t be resolved agree to leave it alone, at least for awhile. But agree to come back to it at a time when you are both calm and ready to talk peacefully. In the meantime, think about what you can do to not make things worse than they already are.
- Remind yourself what is good in your partner. Tell them.
- Don’t lose your sense of humour!
Even if you can’t solve the problem at first, taking this approach shows your partner that you care about your relationship. That’s a good first step and it might help your spouse be more open to hearing your concerns and ideas.
Dads! Renovate Your Relationship is a 20-page booklet full of ideas to help fathers maintain and strengthen their partner relationships. The full booklet can be downloaded from the Dad Central Ontario website.