Parent educator and author Dolores Curran describes five ways couples and families can resolve conflict. Three are ineffective, two effective; stressed families reach for the ineffective ones every time, says Curran.
*Avoidance. "Just avoid the conflict. This is the husband who walks out on a fight. Avoid it at all costs: get out of the house, sink into the television, have another drink. Submerge the conflict."
*Competition. "There has to be a winner and a loser in every domestic argument. That's ineffective because even though one wins, everybody loses."
*Accommodation. " 'I will put up with it because I love him,' which is what battered wives do. Or 'I will put up with her because she's my wife.' " Accommodators submerge their anger, which can emerge in retaliatory practices: "I didn't want to make this move, but I did because he's my husband, and now I will run up $300 in long distance phone bills."
*Compromise. "Useful on short-term, nonfeeling issues: "Who's going to get the car?" "Where are we going to spend Christmas?"
*Collaboration. The skill that couples are weakest in, Curran says, and the one that is needed the most. Collaborators work to expose the feelings beneath the issue -- "Why do I feel so strongly we need to save money?" "Why do I feel so strongly about this vacation; why do I want it so badly?" -- and try to come up with a mutually satisfactory solution.
"This does not mean everyone is going to be pleased all the time," Curran says. "But it takes the other person's feelings into account. Once you feel as if your feelings are respected and heard, you feel understood; that's empathy.
"Until we really know the feelings beneath an issue on which we disagree, we're never going to solve it permanently. It's going to come back over and over again, on all issues: children, work, time.
"Obviously every issue in our daily life cannot be collaborated on," says Curran. "It would take hours and hours. So you reserve collaboration for those issues that are really deep issues that divide you and the ones that you are most likely to avoid -- and you compromise on the others."