Once upon a time, my Mom and I were having a discussion about something that might have been a bit controversial. I can’t remember what we were talking about, only that we were coming at this particular issue from two different sides and we weren’t backing down.
I don’t remember it as an argument at all! I remember it only as a spirited discussion about a topic that we both felt passionate about. There was no point where I thought, “Uh-oh, this is where we end up destroying our relationship! We’ve crossed the line with one another this time.” No, the line between us is strong and constant and even if we tiptoe over it once in a while, we’re always able to come back to a place of balance and neutrality; a place of deep connection, love and belonging.
So, it came as a little bit of a surprise when I was retelling her a story about how I’d gotten into an intense discussion with someone from my workplace and I said, “I think she thought I was looking for a fight!” To which my Mom replied, “Well, we both know you don’t exactly avoid confrontation.”
At first, this comment really stung (in the way all truths that are told to you sometimes do!) and I tried to defend myself and my actions.
The reality is that I’m a middle child, I don’t really enjoy conflict or stirring the pot — I enjoy sitting in a boat that’s floating along serenely in the center of the lake, not bobbing back and forth threatening to capsize at any moment! I never go out of my way to create conflict. Like most people, I’m good with not rocking the boat intentionally.
But my Mom is completely right about me: I never avoid conflict. Ever.
Why? Because I absolutely LOVE conflict resolution!
There’s nothing that thrills me more mind, body, and soul then coming to a new and better understanding with another person. The relationship — whether that be with my Mom, my husband, my kids, my friends or my co-workers — is always improved for having done the hard work of resolving any conflict that should arise; the relationship is always stronger, trust always increases, connection always grows deeper. Who wouldn’t want that?!
Well, as it turns out… LOTS of people!
The work of growing together through differences is hard, it takes time, it requires both parties to be vulnerable, it often involves a lot of emotional pain and at times, quite a bit of suffering.
“Sign me up!” said no one, ever.
Except for me! And maybe Brené Brown, and also my dear friend and colleague, researcher, relationship counselor, and “Parenthood Pioneer” Elly Taylor — author of Becoming Us: The Couple’s Guide To Surviving The Parenthood Journey.
I became a Certified Becoming Us Facilitator a little over two years ago, and since that time I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with about 300 couples in and around Portland, Oregon. I facilitate both Before Baby and After Baby 4-week class series where we cover all “8 Stages of the Parenthood Journey”:
Stage One: Preparing for Your Baby — Create a plan for those first few days, weeks and months after you become a family, (for the first time or the fifth time). This preparation will help make the transition easier on everyone.
Stage Two: Building A Nest —The outside world can wait. Surround yourself with helpers (not visitors) so that you can spend this time nesting, resting and bonding as a family.
Stage Three: Managing Your Expectations — This might not go as you had thought it would… realistic expectations about what to expect can prepare you for those days when you need to seek out extra support.
Stage Four: Setting Up Base Camp — Now that you have a “new normal” you can begin to look at your own needs and setting up habits that will help you cope with the stress of new parenthood.
Stage Five: Embracing Your Emotions — Understanding your new level of emotional sensitivity and using these feelings as a guide for sharing with one another can take your relationship to a whole new level.
Stage Six: Nurturing Your New Parent Selves — Respecting, appreciating and supporting one another in your new roles is vital to your co-parenting relationship.
Stage Seven: Growing Together Through Differences — 92% of couples report increased conflict in the first year after the birth of the baby. By learning the skills of intimate communication, these differences can bring you even closer together rather than send you farther apart.
Stage Eight: Bonding Through Intimacy — 67% of couples report relationship dissatisfaction in the first 3 years of starting a family. But there are ways to increase happiness, stay connected and deepen your love for one another.
Guess which of these 8 Stages of the Parenthood Journey is my favorite?
Yep, it’s no contest. I love Stage Seven: Growing Together Through Differences the most because I know this is when we’re going to get serious about learning how to do the thing that lights me up inside: Conflict Resolution.
Many of the couples who come to my classes might not have had great models or examples of this in their own families of origin. These are not usually skills that we know about or are practiced in unless we have done therapy or are therapists ourselves. Lucky for me… I come by this desire for conflict resolution naturally! And I believe that providing the couples in my classes with these skills is the cornerstone that allows them to do more than just survive parenthood, it allows them to thrive as families all along their parenthood journey.
In class, I encourage my couples to think of an event (it can be on-going or resolved at this point) where they had an argument with their partner. We identify what they were feeling in the moment (their secondary emotion) and then take time to dig deeper and identify what they might have been feeling underneath (their primary emotion). In addition to their initial reaction to the event, what need of theirs might have been not met in this interaction? If they feel able to express this to their partner, how could that need have been met in a different way?
As you can imagine, this sometimes brings up BIG emotions — even when I ask them to choose a very small or seemingly inconsequential event.
The couples then put their feelings into an “I Statement” and then move off to talk with each another privately for a little while. It feels awkward, stiff, a little “corporate” maybe — but many are able to have a much deeper conversation around this issue than they’ve ever had before and this leads to… shared vulnerability, deeper trust, greater connection, and increased understanding! I consider this a bonus… but sometimes they even resolve the conflict completely!
In this age, when the spinning beachball comes on the screen while we’re trying to load our show on Netflix makes us come unglued with impatience, conflict resolution can sometimes be a tough sell.
This work of identifying our triggers and emotions, of taking the time we need to identify and share our vulnerabilities with one another, of listening — really listening — takes a LOT of time and focused attention. But the return on that investment of time and attention is a relationship that is always stronger than it was before.
And that’s always worth it in my opinion.
But, I guess you might expect this from a self-proclaimed, non-avoidant, conflict-resolution-seeking individual who’s job involves teaching these skills to new and expectant families so they might continue to grow together through the differences that come along the parenthood journey. Lucky me!
For more information about Becoming Us, you can purchase the Third Edition of Becoming Us here or here. For more information about becoming a Certified Becoming Us Facilitator or using the tools of Becoming Us in your work with expecting or new families, check this out.
Elly and I will be presenting later this month (6/30/19) at the Postpartum Support International Conference in Portland, Oregon. If you’re a professional wanting to become a “Seed Planter” in the work you’re already doing with expecting or new families, please join us — we’d love to meet you and learn about the work you’re doing!
And if you’re parents (newbies or veterans) living in and around Portland, Oregon (or anywhere else you can join by ZOOM!) please check out my Becoming Us BEFORE and AFTER Baby class schedule and registration information here.