Tom: She started it. She disrespected me first. That’s not right.
Me: I only bring it up because it seemed like you really cared for her.
Tom: Never again. Burn me once, shame on you…burn me twice…shame on me.
Me: Is shutting off communication a trigger for you?
Tom: Yes. My mother would stop talking to me when she was upset. It drove me crazy.
Me: What did you do then?
Tom: I shut down too. We’d play this game of not talking to each other. It sometimes went on for days.
Me: How would it end?
Tom: Eventually one of us would slowly start talking to the other. In most cases it was her.
Me: Why not you?
Tom: Because I was mad at her for shutting down communication and was sort of punishing her by not talking to her.
Me: Sounds similar to what you are doing with Nancy.
Tom: I guess so.
Me: So would it be fair to say that the “avoiding” style that you have become accustomed to over the years is what you tend to do in conflict?
Tom: Not always. But it is probably what I do when I’m really upset with someone.
Me: When you do that, doesn’t it prolong the conflict? You’ve already mentioned that shutting down communication is a trigger for you. So in essence, you extend the pain, extend the uncomfortableness, extend the awkwardness, and extend the conflict from being resolved.
Tom: (being funny) Yeah, so what’s your point?
Me: So would you say that the pattern of shutting down or avoiding communication around a conflicting issue has caused more harm than good in the long run?
Tom: Okay, yes it has Dr. Phil.
Me: I’m just trying to help here. So what other options exist in those situations?
Tom: I guess I could assert myself instead of always reacting and responding to the other person.
Me: Ah, that would be a different approach. By always reacting to their response, you end up giving them all the power in the dynamic. Can you see that?
Tom: I can now.