John Curtis, Ph.D.
How do we manage personality differences during conflict? In conflict, one communication style I’ve heard of is referred to as the turtle. They withdraw into their shell. We all know what that can be like. They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to interact. They literally withdraw. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to solve the issue. It just means that at that very moment, they may not be very verbal. They may be one of those individuals who know it is best not to try to talk when you’re angry because you’re going to say something you’ll later regret. That is the way their communication style handles problems, conflict, or anger.
So, now that they’ve heard your concern, they need a day to think about it, to sleep on it, to go pray about it, or to go jog ten miles about it. Then they’ll talk with you about it tomorrow. And that’s an example of a different communication style that your partner may have but you don’t, and you have to learn to accept that.
Then, you have the other kind of extreme opposite: the thunderstorm. This person’s personality communication style is loud and boisterous. . Perhaps they pound their fists. It can be very intimidating and very scary; especially if that’s coming out of a guy’s mouth, and he happens to be a big man. One of the things you need to recognize is that you may scare people with the way you vent your anger.
Both the different personalities of the turtle and the thunderstorm, while you may have good motives, your initial approach and your style may be counterproductive to resolving the conflict.
A friend of mine once said to me, “You never really know somebody till they get mad at you.” They get mad at you; you get mad at them. Talk to each other. So what are you like when you angry? What can I expect from you? And let them report that. You know, most of the times, they are adult enough to say, “Well, you know, I’m the one that just gets quiet. I sort of brood for a couple of days, but don’t take it personally. I’ll get over it.” And the other may say, “Well, you know, I’m the one that rants, raves, and pounds on the table. If I do that, know that I’m not going to hit you. I promise. That’s my style.” Couples should talk to each other about the styles, so it’s not a surprise the first time they have to manage personality differences during conflict.
So, there I am talking to you forcefully, aggressively, and you’re saying nothing. I can go, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s that turtle you’ve told me about. Okay, well, can we make an appointment here? It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. four o’clock tomorrow can we get together, and talk about what I brought up?” Work with each other and make an agreement to resolve things. Talk it through, let each other know your style, how you deal with conflict, and really what you can expect on the other side.
The key thing is to mention what I would call intentionality. And what that means is to keep in mind that the bottom line is your committed to your spouse, you love them, you never want to spend life with anybody else, but you’re going to have conflicts along the way. Don’t lose sight of the big picture in the middle of squabbling over who forgot to get the eggs at the grocery store, because the big picture is you are all together, happy, and healthy long term relationship. That’s really what you both want. You both want to be able to disagree and resolve conflicts despite your different temperaments and personality differences.
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