Relationships, Part 50: Constructive Conflict: Detect Dreams

You find yourself gridlocked. You want children; she doesn’t. He wants you to go to church, but you’re an atheist. She likes to stay home; you’re always ready to party. There doesn’t seem to be any solution. There’s no way to compromise. You’re ready to call it quits. What do you do?

Step away from the problem.

Look at the big picture. Understand the different points of view. Not just your perspectives on the immediate issue, but what lies behind them. Behind every position is a dream or a value that you and your partner find essential. Acknowledging and respecting these deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to getting past the impasse.

To get out of gridlock, you have to understand what causes people to become rigid and inflexible. No matter what the issue, whether it’s momentous, like following a job to a different state, or trivial, like how to make the bed, deadlock is an indication that there are dreams and values that have not been identified, acknowledged, or respected.

You didn’t survive childhood without coming away with some ideas of what you would like to do differently than your parents and what you would like to do the same. These ideas could cover marriage, childrearing, vocation, or general matters of lifestyle. If your father was violent, you may have had your fill of it in childhood and are determined not repeat the behavior in your life. If your family always had Sunday dinner and you found this was the anchor that kept everyone from going adrift, you may have an unwavering commitment to Sunday dinners, yourself.

You didn’t enter adulthood without being aware, more or less, that the time you have is limited. You want to make your life worthwhile. You want to make a difference that you are here. You came up with ideas of things you could do: help people, raise children, glorify God, experience life, pursue truth, or create beauty; things you can do to contribute.

These resolutions, the ones you bring from childhood and the ones you make in the face of death, are very powerful. They define who you are and what makes your life worthwhile. Your partner has them, too. Do you know what they are?

When I say be a dream detective, I mean that you need to know what your partner’s dreams and resolutions are and how they impact on the issue at hand. It may be that the way she makes the bed matters more and for a deeper reason than you ever imagined. It may be that being a good Catholic, or a staunch atheist, is vital to his identity.

Consider the conflict that you have, take her position and trace back to where it connects to these resolutions. When you go back that far, you often find that there are many ways of accomplishing the dream. It turns out that she makes the bed that way because it’s how her Grandmother made her bed. She loved her Grandmother, whose home was an orderly haven from the chaos she grew up in. She is determined to not let her home be chaotic. Well, there’s lots of ways to hold off chaos. The way she makes the bed may not be a crucial once others ways are employed.

When you are able to trace the conflict back to the value that makes the conflict important, then you can come up with other solutions that accomplish the same goal. When you know these things about your partner, you can’t help but respect them, if you love her at all. It’s what makes her, her. You want her to succeed and accomplish her dreams because, well, what is love if it’s not that?

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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