Is There a Better Way of Resolving Conflict?

In my previous blog, I outlined how each of us has a predictable style of communication when we argue. According to Mark and Debbie Laaser in their book Seven Desires, we each adopt one of four stances when we have conflict over unfulfilled desires in our relationships, especially in a marriage relationship. This is true whether or not your marriage has been affected by childhood sexual abuse.

The four stances, or styles, are Pleaser, Blamer, Reasonable and the Irrelevant. Each style has its own strategy for controlling the argument. And none of the styles leads towards true resolve or healthier connection for the two people involved.

There is a better way for approaching our conflicts over unfulfilled desires.

Gabbie and Derrick enjoy a good relationship. But things got off-balance for them every fall. The month of October brought sadness for Gabbie. The sadness affected their relationship because neither was at their best. Gabbie was sad and Derrick was disappointed that she was sad. Gabbie, not wanting to disappoint Derrick, tried to push through the emotional cloud of October and did all she could to keep things pleasant in their home. But she was always crying inside.

Derrick, knowing that Gabbie is a victim of childhood sexual abuse, always reasoned that some bad things must have happened in her childhood during the month of October. It seemed reasonable to him that October would, therefore, be a difficult time.

With good counseling, Gabbie has been working through many of the wounds and effects that intruded upon her life as a result of the childhood sexual abuse. One result of her healing and growth is that she has gained her voice. The silence imposed upon her by the abuse has been broken. With Derrick’s encouragement, she is able to speak her thoughts and feelings as never before.

Gabbie decided that it was time to speak out regarding her annual struggle during the month of October. To Derrick’s surprise, it had nothing to do with her past abuse.

Gabbie decided that it was time to speak out . . .

During the years of their dating, Derrick assumed Gabbie should not be living at home with her mom because of the past abuse that occurred in her home with her father. Derrick made arrangements and moved Gabbie out. But Derrick did not consider how the threat of abuse had been removed. Gabbie’s father no longer lived in her home. With her father gone, Gabbie’s room became her place of refuge. She felt safe and enjoyed her privacy. Her favorite pet was her therapeutic companion. And unfortunately, the new living arrangement Derrick made for Gabbie was not as safe and private as he had intended.

The loss of Gabbie’s privacy, sense of safety, favorite pet, and connection with her mom all occurred in the month of October. October was punctuated with loss. And now it was time for Gabbie to speak truth as part of her endeavor to experience the freedom that comes with truth.

Derrick was dumbfounded as Gabbie spoke. All of his reasonable thoughts and actions were shattered by her truth. It was a hit to his ego that his reasoning had been wrong. He had not seen all the facts and perspectives. In the past, Derrick would have transitioned from his Reasonable stance to a self-condemning withdrawal. Derrick often slipped into the mantra of “I knew it. I’m the worst. I’m better to just go someplace where she doesn’t have to deal with me. I’ll become Irrelevant.”

All of Derrick’s reasonable thoughts and actions were being shattered by her truth.

Instead of resorting to past patterns, Derrick chose to stay, listen, and care. His presence and care were exactly what Gabbie wanted. She had always sought to be the Pleaser. But now, in choosing to speak truth, she knew it might not please. In taking the risk to speak, Gabbie wanted to know she would still be accepted.

Derrick chose to stay, listen, and care.

When Derrick inserted his sincere and repeated “I’m sorry” as he listened to Gabbie’s story, she was quick to say, “No, no, no. I’m not blaming you. I just want you to know so that we can both understand the problem and move forward.”

“. . . understand the problem and move forward.”

Mark and Debbie Laaser refer to Derrick’s and Gabbie’s approach as the Congruent stance for resolving conflict from unfulfilled desires (pp. 118-120).

The benefits of a Congruent Stance include two truths discovered by Derrick and Gabbie.

  1. The Congruent Stance Requires a Choice

Derrick said this about himself, “I made the conscious choice to be available.” He could have sulked in his faulty reasoning. He also felt the pull to withdraw into himself and to another room. But he made a choice to move away from stances that would distance him from Gabbie and to embrace a stance of care and acceptance.

Gabbie loves it when others are pleased, especially when Derrick is pleased with her. She knew she risked Derrick not being pleased with her or himself by sharing this truth she had held within herself for a couple years. But she chose to no longer live in the distortion of false perceptions and pseudo-acceptance. She chose to speak truth, in love.

  1. The Congruent Stance Leads to Freedom

If either Derrick or Gabbie had remained in their default stances for addressing conflict over unfulfilled desires, they would have repeated their annual depression with each October. But with their choice to take an open and vulnerable stance, they experienced harmony and understanding. And the new understanding brought freedom.

Derrick told me, “We have our falls back!” The change of season no longer triggers unfulfilled desires and unresolved issues for Gabbie. And Derrick no longer lives in his clouded perception wondering why everything is not ok when, in his mind, everything should be fine in October. They have recaptured their enjoyment of walks and hikes during the colorful season of autumn leaves.

It is true: the truth shall set you free. You and I, along with Derrick and Gabbie, can enjoy freedom as we move away from Pleasing in order to be accepted, Blaming in order to be right, Reasoning because we think we are right, and Running from doing what’s right. Freedom comes as we lovingly communicate truth and patiently listen to understand.

Freedom comes as we lovingly communicate truth and patiently listen to understand.

Reference Used in this Blog:

Laaser, M. & Laaser, D. (2013). Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.

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