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The Conflict Cure

The Conflict Cure

“What time’s your flight?”

“I don’t know; you bought the ticket.”

I was distracted, working on a new course, and immediately forgot about the conversation. ‘Til I got a text from my sister:

What time’s your flight?

“Hon!” I call to my husband, “What time’s my flight?”

You can see where this is going, right?

My sister and I are taking my mom to New Orleans to celebrate her 70th birthday. We’ve been planning this “girls'” weekend for a year. Originally it was Europe but after a busy year of travel we decided to explore closer to home.

I haven’t been to New Orleans since I was in my twenties. All I remember is the drive across Lake Ponchetrain (breathtaking), keeping my money in my bra to foil the pick-pockets, and staring in awe at the slant of the buildings in the French Quarter; I was pretty certain that if we all stopped believing, even for a second, the entire city would give in to gravity.

Despite forecasts for hundred-degree days, I’m pretty excited to visit again. We have a cemetery tour planned and my sister found a Cajun cooking class that, with all of our various food intolerances, should be a hoot.

I hop on my computer and type DELTA into the email search box… which pulls up a ticket from November of 2014.

I change my search term to NEW ORLEANS. Nothing.

When I pause to think about it, I don’t remember actually seeing my itinerary. Ever.

I take a deep breath. And stick my head into the living room:

“Do you think you actually bought the ticket? I can’t find it and you can’t find it…”

These moments? They are never fun.

The sentence loaded with the potential for conflict has to be delivered with the utmost care.

But, I have to say, conflict isn’t what it used to be in our house.

I admit it: I was a screamer. My husband tends toward silent. And when your partner is silent, you never get the satisfaction of hearing those magic words:

You’re right.

I remember when some friends were going through marriage counseling. Their counselor asked them Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?

Sometimes I wanted to be right way more than I wanted to be married. I couldn’t stop going over every detail of a disagreement until I had assured myself that I was on the side of the angels.

Then I read The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. No kidding, this book is a game changer. He presents a radical concept: both people taking 100% of the blame in a disagreement.

It rankles… but it rankles less when I am not the only one who is 100% at fault.

We tried it out for the first time about three years ago. In the middle of a big blow out, I took a deep breath and said “I’ll take 100% of the blame if you’ll take the other 100%.”

We looked at each other.

We stared each other down, gunslingers waiting for the draw.

And then my husband said “Okay, I’ll take the other 100% of the blame.”

We waited in the silence. We stared at each other. I watched the white lines around his lips slowly fade.

In the end we both laughed.

Situation defused.

So, back to the plane ticket…

“I can’t believe you haven’t checked this before now,” my husband says.

“I don’t know why you wanted to buy my ticket,” I parry. “I would have done it myself but you seemed all into it.”

And, suddenly, I’m at the crossroads. I feel the potential for screaming, I remember the body-feel of all-out anger…

… And I don’t want to feel that, don’t want to go there. Don’t want to spend the next 24 hours chasing angry thoughts around my head.

I pause and, in my mind, take 100% of the blame. I decide to think it would be an adventure, a story, a blog post, to have to buy a plane ticket at last minute to meet my mom for her birthday.

The potential whirlwind in my mind settles, the waspy words go quiet.

Taking 100% of the blame only works if both people are willing to do it and mean it. And, to be clear, this is not a remedy for abuse. But for your garden-variety ups and downs, it’s a fabulous ritual for diffusing the situation (and saves your adrenals a whole lotta stress!).

The plane ticket? Turns out it was bought–the confirmation got lost in cyberspace.

I’m off to New Orleans to celebrate but if you scroll down to the comments and tell me how you resolve conflict, I promise I’ll read and respond when I get back next week!