Expectations and Conflict: Part II

Consider your story by journaling about the following questions:

○ What have I expected of others?

○ What have others expected of me?

○ How have these expectations impacted my life? How might they threaten my recovery and spiritual transformation?

Learning to be "wrong"

I was fourteen and attending my first (and only) summer camp ever when I realized that fine people might disagree on the positions held by my family of origin.  The camp was held up in the mountains of VA and the crowd of kids attending were warm and welcoming.  I cannot remember how the leader of the organization I attended convinced my parents to let me attend but I vaguely recall it involved her paying my way and providing transportation.

Because my family moved around a lot, I was pretty untethered from the world.  New to Richmond, the only adult “voices” in my life on a daily basis were my parents and the occasional influential teacher.  Except for this club I was in.  Others took for granted that an adult would show up for us on a weekly basis, sponsor our participation in the organization and actually listen to us!  I did not.

I vividly recall the speaker presentations during that week - not for the content but for the challenge.  These were adults talking about matters that I did not know adults thought about, sharing opinions that were diametrically opposed to my dad’s perspective.  I felt like I had found a new home.  I thought maybe the world was not as scary as I believed.  And maybe, just maybe, there were people in the world who cared about others.  This was all news to me.

During this week I had an insight, soon lost only to be rediscovered many years later, that I might be missing key information about a subject; my family could be wrong or if not wrong, at least have an opinion that not everyone shared.  This was a developmental milestone of sorts; my first foray into making up my own mind about an issue.  It was liberating in the moment and dangerous once I returned home.  I learned how to shut up.

But I also learned that I could be wrong about something.  One of my favorite slogans in the whole wide world reflects the values I began to grasp during this amazing week of discovery:  when we know better, we do better.

Being wrong is not a capital offense; there is not extra credit for being right.  In fact, growing up necessarily involves unlearning, relearning, and realizing that we are always in need of more education.

Today, consider how you might accidentally be closing yourself off to new and life-altering information simply because you are so confident in your “rightness”.  What if...you are missing key information that would change your perspective?

Fight Fair

Back in the day I thought Christians should never fight or argue; today I believe we MUST disagree BUT not fight dirty.  If we follow the teachings of Jesus, then we can disagree on many points about how to apply his teaching but there is no argument that I can find for misunderstanding how to interpret this:  Jesus cared about the sorry people - the marginalized, disenfranchised, the homeless, helpless, hurting, imprisoned.  This is indisputable.

These are the matters that we must be willing to fight over.  My friend Myra posted a FB post about language around suicide.  It was thoughtful, respectful and helpful.  She hit her mark.  But one of her old high school buddies disagreed, kind of rudely, but not terribly inappropriately.  My friend Debi enriched the conversation by supporting Myra’s position and she got blasted by the guy - way out of bounds.  In response, several folks spoke back into this guy’s life by explaining that this is not how we roll; we can disagree but we will not support name calling.  Later I learned that Myra blocked him and deleted his comment.

My point is this:  all of it was done respectfully AND people spoke up and out about the abusive language used.  This is necessary for a civil society to remain civil; we have to fight for this or else the abusive voices will be granted tacit permission to continue their abusive ways.

Fighting fair is a core value for those who believe in the value of life - even the lives of those who annoy us.

Fight fair.  Don’t be a dirty fighter or Myra might block you.

Become a safe person

Safety in relationships sounds like something that occurs between two people.  Logically, it would make sense that the way we find safe relationships is to make sure we vet who we hang out with - and certainly that is an element of the process.

But safety is created as much by what we do on our own time than what happens in the real time of conflict.  I have a deep-seated fear of conflict because I experienced conflict in my family system as such a risky proposition.  I could go into endless details about this, but suffice it to say:  we as a family did not manage our conflict well.

When I got married, I had neither the skills nor the courage to fight with my husband - whether it was a fair fight or otherwise.  This is not good.  Conflict is inevitable and it is healthy if done skillfully.  When we were younger we often ended up making decisions that neither of us was happy with because we were so busy trying to guess and give the other person what they wanted!  

Today we have more conflict than ever - I think we are playing a game of catch up.  But this is also a gift.  It means that we have both realized the value of honesty with each other.  We capitulate less and actually resolve issues more.  This is all good.

I cannot speak to what this required of Pete but for me, I had to grow out of my old ways of being and into new ways of seeing.  It helps that we have been married 40 years and he’s never once left me.  It helps that we have never had an argument in which either of us threatened divorce or dismemberment.  But what has really, really helped is me taking responsibility for me.

I have learned that I owe it to my grown up self to have preferences and state them in real time rather than asking Pete to read my mind.  I have learned that conflict well managed in the present increases the chance that both of us “win” at getting what we want.  

I am trying, and it is really hard, to take responsibility for myself.  My thoughts, feelings and actions are my own.  I have no one else to blame nor do I have to defer credit to others when I do something worthwhile.  I am trying to figure out how to stand on my own two feet with my arms wrapped around all those I love.  This is a dance of balance and it is not easy.  But the old way was much harder. 

Are there any ways that you need to learn how to take more responsibility for yourself?

Safe Conflict

How can we use conflict to build intimacy and resolve issues?  Skillfully!  For the next few posts, I’m going to mention a few for your consideration.

Safety is a “thing” and it is always at risk.

In other words, there are all sorts of ways conversations, particularly conflictual ones can go sideways.  The most likely first step in a conversation going wrong is when a feeling of safety in the midst of the discussion is lost by any of the participating parties.  This benefits no one - unless of course, someone is interested in keeping the conflict pot stirred.

Safety is an issue for all parties but individuals experience safety violations differently.  My husband isn’t a big fan of conflict but he sees nothing wrong with yelling at referees on television.  Raised voices of any kind, even the kind that is deluded enough to think that the referees can hear him and care about his opinion, make me nervous.  Over the years he has learned to tone down his sports passion as a way to respect and demonstrate his love for me.

Have you noticed that people in your life seem to have issues around feeling safe in conversations that are hard for you to understand?  Try anyway.  What about you?  Are there any safety issues for you that you might need to explain to people you love so that they can be more supportive?  Try to be transparent and see what happens.

Fear of Conflict

I hate conflict.  I don’t mind standing up against injustice on behalf of someone else but I hate hate hate conflict in my relationships.  One way I used to try to avoid conflict without actually resolving anything was to practice stonewalling. Stonewalling is when we avoid conflict while communicating disapproval, distance and separation by withdrawing from a relationship.  Some call it giving someone the “cold shoulder”. It’s fighting dirty because you do not give resolution a chance.



It’s also a bit cowardly.  If called out on it, we can always tell the person that they are crazy (which is called gaslighting by the way) and that we are not withdrawn, just tired or stressed out.  If we really work at this we can blame a whole bunch of people with an elaborate story that hides the truth of our own culpability - we are scared of conflict but we still want our pound of flesh.


Surprisingly, I did not learn how to reduce my stonewalling ways by learning how to fight more efficiently.  Instead, I’ve learned how to practice what Dr. John Gottman calls “physiological self-soothing.”


Here’s how it works.  When Pete brings up a touchy subject that we are having conflict over I immediately experience a visceral desire to run away and pout.  Instead of doing so, I try to tell the truth to myself. Ugh oh, Teresa, here you go again - you are considering stonewalling. If I can remember this and not react by doing this thing I instinctively want to do I can choose to do something different.  It looks like this:


“Hey, I hate this about me (acknowledge my feelings) but I really want to withdraw from you and this discussion (tell the truth).  I need your help (express my need rather than blame him in some way). I need to take a break from this discussion and do something that will help me calm down.  I am going to go distract myself with a nice, long walk. Can we reconvene this conversation in a couple hours?” This is an example of physiological self-soothing.  Walks work for me.


I cannot count the number of times I have left the house to walk and think about how my husband is a silly goose only to return with gratitude and appreciation for his perspective.  Stonewalling is not helpful but it is indicative that we are freaking out and under stress. Our work, our responsibility, our skill set to develop in situations like this? Physiological self-soothing.  Workout. Do a puzzle. Water your plants. Vacuum. Take a drive. Ride your bike. Go sit on a rock in the James river and thank God you live in such a cool place! It’s a great skill set and it can be done at anytime for no charge!  Try it!


P.S.  According to Gottman, you need at least twenty minutes to reset.  I require an hour!

Who am I?

Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.  Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll


Election day 2017 was almost as traumatic as the presidential election day experience.  This time I walked straight into two dads giving each other the business while their combined tribe of five boy children watched.  I know these guys.  I know these kids.  These folks are friends; the dads have known each other since THEY were in diapers.  In a way, this familiarly on my part made the interaction MORE disheartening than the elderly lady who littered as a protest to others having a different political persuasion.


This time I wasn’t in shock; this time I wasn’t going to stand quietly by.


But what was I going to do?


That is ALWAYS the question in situations like this one. 


Let me back up and say that in a few minutes I will stop writing, jump up and run over to our “studio” (a different table in my office) and teach a webinar on DETACHMENT, CODEPENDENCY, and BOUNDARIES.  I do NOT think that if something needs doing it is always my place to do so.  I angst; I work out; I meditate; I write down things I feel and want to do and say and then burn them in my fire pit.  I teach hard things that I almost never want to abide by – but this is what it means to grow up.


It’s hard.


I am a strange bird.  I am both easily frightened and strangely aggressive when it comes to defending someone I perceive is being taken advantage of.  I am nervous and anxious almost 24/7.  I rarely feel capable but am always defensive when criticized.  My dreams are haunted with worst case scenarios and villains.  I try not to burden others with it, but there it is – it is my reality.  I feel responsible for many things that are objectively speaking NOT mine to do.  Sometimes I get in such a state about those things that I fail to notice the things I am responsible for.  Like making sure we have toilet paper in the house or turning on the stove to cook the Thanksgiving turkey.  Pray for my family.


But there is one thing that I have been doing consistently for over 30 years that I stand by unapologetically – I keep peering into God’s word to find answers to my moment-by-moment dilemmas.  I know that the bible is not a magic book of answers; I understand that it is the story of God, the story of us (to quote Sean Gladding).  I’ve read enough of it to have MORE questions than answers from the text at this point in my life.  However.  The scriptures reveal hidden mysteries and sacred truths that can guide us at least toward the light, even if on many days it seems so very pale and dim. 

To be continued…

Looking back, leaning in...

Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. Philippians 3:13 CEB


On election day 2017 I headed out to do my civic duty with dread in my heart.  During the previous presidential election two seemingly lovely ladies with opposing political perspectives caused a scene and it just killed my spirit.  Heading back to the polling precinct felt like returning to a crime scene.  To be clear, it was mainly one of the two that acted up.  One woman was a lovely retired teacher from my children’s school – she was handing out sample ballots for one political party.  She was as sweet and calm and deferential as she had always been as a teacher.  Top drawer classy lady. The other, ahem, well – this happened. 


“May I hand you a sample ballot?”  the volunteer inquires to a statuesque woman with expertly coiffed piles of white hair wearing a killer pair of red shoes and a St. John’s suit that looked fresh off the Nordstrom’s full price rack.  In silence, Red heels grabs the ballot, rips it to shreds and throws it on the ground, stomps her foot (not kidding), and harrumphs at the retired teacher lady.  She folds her arms.  She glares.  She sighs.  She calls the volunteer all sorts of names, one of which I had to google to understand. She was WAY older than me – maybe 100?  I thought perhaps she should have had more skill sets than she displayed.  But she had excellent balance in those shoes.


I was frozen in my spot, thinking, “Surely she had other options.” For example, how about..


“No thank you, I am clear on my voting preferences.”  OR “Hell no!”  OR 


“Sure,” takes the sample ballot, holds it until she gets to the nearest trash can and then deposits it where she believes it belongs.  OR


“I don’t need the ballot, but I am curious.  Could you tell me why you are out here on this cold, wet, rainy day to support this platform?  I won’t be voting for them, but I am really interested in hearing your perspective.”


When did it get so bad that little old ladies no longer led the way in decorum, wisdom and kindness?  That’s my pity-party sentence – now, let’s get down to changing the world one small next right step at a time.


To be continued…