The Great Compromise of 1990 is not in the history books — but it should be. It all started when I sewed a beautiful quilted Christmas tree skirt the year before I got married. Naturally, I expected to enjoy it under my tree for the rest of my days. However, at some point after our May wedding, I learned that my patient husband’s family had always piled fir boughs under their Christmas tree, and, naturally, he expected to do so for the rest of his days. Enter conflict, and cue Dr. Linda Mintle. According to her latest book, We Need to Talk, there are six styles of dealing with conflict whether it occurs in marriage, with other family members, in the office, dormitory, classroom, or a church business meeting. Our comparatively trivial disagreement could have been resolved in various ways:
- Avoider – If my patient husband and I were avoiders, we might have just decided that having a Christmas tree was too much trouble. Better to avoid the conflict than to hash it out.
- Volatile – With this conflict management style, we might have chosen to take turns having our choice of Christmas tree adornment, always ribbing the other, making snide comments, and fielding fake phone calls from Martha Stewart asking for permission to film our tree during quilted tree skirt years.
- Hostile – If we had allowed the matter to accelerate to this level, we would have resorted to blame, personal attacks and criticism, showing contempt for the other person’s choice of decoration. Definitely leave the bottom of the Christmas tree out of all family pictures!
- Competitive – This style may have led to years when the tree skirt went missing, or when the fir boughs mysteriously landed in the woodstove. There would have been plenty of argument over the pros and cons of each style.
- Accommodation – If one of us had immediately given in to the other, it may have simplified our lives temporarily, but could have led to resentment in the long run.
- Validation – Maybe it was because we were newlyweds, but I remember a very calm and rational discussion about our Christmas tree conflict. The Great Compromise of 1990 surpassed either option taken alone, for, from that point on, we spread a layer of fir boughs on the floor under the Christmas tree, and then positioned my beautiful quilted tree skirt atop the boughs with tiny tufts of evergreen peeking around the circumference. Rather than a source of tension, that particular conflict has become symbolic of our ability to bring our two worlds together for a new and better outcome.
In spite of this wonderful and harmonious outcome, it is still true in our marriage that, yes, we do “need to talk,” because it is impossible to live in harmony with everyone all the time. A relationship with a strong foundation of trust will weather conflict more effectively, and Dr. Mintle helps her readers to see that trying to avoid dealing with issues only postpones — and likely heightens the urgency of — the conflict. Recognizing individual differences and identifying preferences will increase understanding of the other person, and part of the communication process should include a clear statement of one’s expectations.
Negativity and disrespect only cloud the issue. We Need to Talk gives advice that is both biblical and practical for dealing with families of origin, “difficult” people, and the special challenges that come with divorce and blended families. Forgiveness is the oil that keeps relational machinery from seizing up or wearing out, and the real life examples of forgiveness from Dr. Mintle’s practice put flesh on the bones of I Peter 2:21-23:
” . . . you should follow [Christ’s] steps . . who, when He was reviled did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threated, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
I read We Need to Talk with a pen in my hand because I wanted to underline and remember the wise words, both clever and brief, exemplified by these favorite few of Dr. Mintle’s Maxims:
- Disrespect erodes love.
- Fear triggers conflict.
- A constructive dialogue can emerge from positive feelings, but a negative response will reinforce negative feelings.
- Grumbling and complaining are signs of doubting God.
- Parenting seems easy until you have children. (Whoa, do I hear an amen?)
- The problem with being deluded is that you rarely know when you are!
- Venting anger doesn’t work. It just fans the flames.
Supplementing the content in her book, Dr. Linda Mintle blogs about making positive life changes in Doing Life Together at beliefnet.com.
Disclosure: This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of the Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.