Fighting Right/ Tips to Successful Conflict Resolution

How do you handle conflict?   Do you try to avoid it? Do you tell a few friends about it before addressing it with the person it’s with?  Which parent did you inherit your conflict-resolution skills from?

In the early 90’s, I co-facilitated support groups for battered women at a domestic violence agency. One of my favorite topics was resolving conflicts assertively.  At the time, I was in my late twenties, just out of college, and not too far out of a violent marriage that had followed a violent childhood. Years of living life as a doormat were followed by years of occasional volcanic eruptions. Poor unsuspecting clerk at Toys R Us. Poor friends and family.  I simply had no clue how to resolve conflicts in a civilized fashion.
I learned a lot, facilitating those groups.  And recently, sometime between attending my family reunion and reorganizing a second time at my current job, I realized it was time to dust off the old tips.
After Google-searching Rules of a Fair Fight, I found a bunch of familiar information, but was partial to Dr. Phil McGraw’s article below, and though it’s written in the context of an intimate relationship, you can generalize the information to be relevant to friends or coworkers.
How to Fight Fair
Take it private and keep it private.
Fighting in front of your children is nothing short of child abuse. It can and will scar them emotionally — all because you don’t have the self-control to contain yourself until you can talk privately.

Keep it relevant.
Don’t bring up old grudges or sore points when they don’t belong in a particular argument. Put boundaries around the subject matter so that a fight doesn’t deteriorate into a free-for-all.

Keep it real.
Deal with the issue at hand, not with a symptom of the problem. Get real about what is bothering you, or you will come away from the exchange even more frustrated.

Avoid character assassination.
Stay focused on the issue, rather than deteriorating to the point of attacking your partner personally. Don’t let the fight degenerate into name-calling.

Remain task-oriented.
Know what you want going into the disagreement. If you don’t have a goal in mind, you won’t know when you’ve achieved it.

Allow for your partner to retreat with dignity.
How an argument ends is crucial. Recognize when an olive branch is being extended to you — perhaps in the form of an apology or a joke — and give your partner a face-saving way out of the disagreement.

Be proportional in your intensity.
Every single thing you disagree about is not an earth-shattering event or issue. You do not have to get mad every time you have a right to be.

There’s a time limit.
Arguments should be temporary, so don’t let them

get out of hand. Don’t allow the ugliness of an argument to stretch on indefinitely.

One tip I remember from the support group days was not to use button-pushing language.
“You always… You never… You need to”…
 Beginning any sentence with the word you gets dicey during an argument. It incites anger, and  does not  usually end well.
I still don’t always fight fair. I struggle with the You always language, but have mastered the art of addressing conflict and moving on. It’s a work in progress.

What tips do you have for resolving conflicts?

Thanks for all the neat comments lately. I love hearing from you.

One in Three Women and the Shocking Truth About Their Children

How are your math skills?

This week, the World Health Organization announced that one in three women worldwide have been physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former partner. Almost 40 percent of women murdered around the world were killed by their intimate partner.

So if one in three women have been victims of domestic violence, how many children are impacted? And are they only impacted if they were physically present during the assault(s)? Or only effected if they’re old enough to realize what’s going on?

This week, I attended a lecture by epidemiologist Dr.Chamberlain given to youth-serving professionals about the impact of complex trauma on the developing brain of a child.

Dr. Linda Chamberlain

There, I learned a few things:

The younger the child, the greater the impact. Though an infant may be too young to know what’s going on, the child’s developing brain will not forget, a scary fact for those of  us who’ve told ourselves that our kids were young and therefore exempt from long-term impact somehow. 


When a developing brain is focused on survival, the result can lead to a smaller brain with fewer connections, interfering with learning down the road.

Health problems like headaches, bed-wetting, and stomach-aches are common among traumatized children.  And what kind of trauma is more taxing on a child than when the parent they love is injured or is hurting another?

But there is good news. Brains can be rewired. Brains can heal.

Through healthy relationships, physical and social activity, and developing new skills.

One in three women being abused equates to a lot of developing brains being shaped. But we can all help re-shape them.

To learn more about how you can help, take a look at The Amazing Brain: Trauma and the Potential for Healing online.  

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Planning your Family Reunion? Three Tips to Make Your Experience Even Better

Do you attend your family’s reunions? Have you ever thought about organizing one?

I just returned from my family reunion in Kentucky. Though it happens annually for the Meredith’s, I commit to attending once every other year, given the price of airfare, the length of time to travel, and the emotional capital.
I’ve had conversations with a lot of folks who say they won’t attend their family reunions anymore. Their reasons vary:  I didn’t grow up around these people, or I don’t know any of them anymore. I can’t afford it. I don’t see the point.
I see the point. Though I was forty years old when committing myself to reunions every two years, it became clear to me that every person I met and every story they told had relevance to my life. Want to know why your parents battled noisily? Find out how your grandparents were raised.  Do you wonder where your artistic talent came from?  Ask your aunt if she knows of a relative with your shared talent.
But let’s get real; reunions are stressful, too. People travel long distances. Congregate in the host’s home, and still  end up sitting with their own nuclear family. They don’t mingle, and in fact, they may not remember or have ever met the relatives gathered around them.
If I could, I would change a few things so that everyone left their reunion knowing more relatives and more family stories. I’d re-think a few things, such as:
*Have the family reunion at a central location such as a park or pavilion rather than in one relatives home.
 It’s a lot of work for a family member to host a reunion. Those who host can’t circulate easily. They can’t relax, and spend  much time and money to provide the event. The host may dictate who is and is not invited, counter-productive to the spirit of being inclusive.
*Give attendees name tags where they can write their own names as well as the names of their parents.
*Organize early mingling as speed-dating.
Another words, assign a relative, maybe the top five oldest relatives, to a table or chair by themselves, and then rotate in the other relatives, who can ask two questions apiece. Questions like:
  •      What was your best holiday memory growing up?
  •       Name your favorite dish your mom or dad made for you as a kid?
  •       Looking back over your life, what do you wish you’d done differently?  What are you most proud of?
  •       I’m X years old. What were you doing at my age? Do you have any advice for how I can maneuver the treacherous roads  in life ahead?
  •      Assign a relative to take an individual and group picture of attendees. They’re fun to have on hand for the next reunion, and can be useful when planning (gulp!) memorial services down the road.

What tips do you have for enjoying your family reunion more fully?  I always enjoy your comments.

Dedicated to Uncle Gayle Meredith, who made every reunion I remember a little more interesting. 

For more tips on planning your family’s reunion, click here.

Creating a New Ending/ Starting Over with Lost and Found Siblings

“No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”- Maria Robinson

This week I left Alaska and ventured to Indiana, where three of my siblings have lived their adult lives.

We kids weren’t raised together for long, and we have different dads. Though my mom had custody of us all, she took four of her six kids (all her daughters) for a weekend visitation, leaving her sons with their father for a “guys weekend.” The six of us have never been together again since that day, more than forty years ago.  We girls were ushered out of the home early, one by one, sometimes losing contact with one another for months or decades as well.
This is a scenario that happens far too often. One parent wants control of custody custody, or a parent is fleeing abuse, and the children lose.
But while we can’t go back and change what happened, I think after several years of trying, we’re breaking new ground together and moving forward in a positive direction.
When we first reunited, around eight years ago with these two,  I was anxious. I think they were too.  What can I say to them about our missing parent? Should I not mention unhappy memories we had together? Will I trigger flashbacks for them that will last after I leave?
Now, four visits and eight years later, I’m  finding a surprising amount of peace and making fun new memories with them.
To reunite happily, it’s worked best for me when:
  • The sibling has a sense of humor, and I keep mine.
  • Childhood issues have been worked through, either in counseling, or with a strong support system, rather than avoided and glossed over.
  • The lost and found sibling doesn’t harbor blame for their sister or brother that spills out indirectly.
  • The sibling has created a life they’re content with and isn’t looking to me to find their happiness. And vice-versa.
  • Most importantly, we’re committed to knowing and accepting one another with compassion, and keeping our developing relationships positive despite past hurts.
After a day spent at a gorgeous cabin close to the Ohio River, my brother, my sister, and I likely spent over half of our time re-counting awful shared childhood memories. We agreed we didn’t have any good ones. But what fun it was to also find out other things. Who’s your favorite musical group? What do you read? Television shows? What’s your plan for retirement? Basic stuff of life.


There is a bond between us that exists now that didn’t a decade earlier.  And I can say with confidence that we’re committed to the new ending we’ve begun to create.

Thank you to my siblings for making space for me.
Want to know what these two sibs are up to?

Check out my brother’s band, Pawn Shop Guitar, at

and my sister’s art on Facebook at‎Cached

How to Celebrate Life Alaska-Style (Even After Your Family Has Been Crushed)

I know I just extolled the virtues of Alaska living in last week’s re-post.

In truth, I have a love/ hate relationship with Alaska, the place where I’ve lived more than four decades now.

On one hand, it’s brutally cold and dark for well over half the year, physically far  from every where I want to travel.

Alaska, May 2013

On the other hand, it’s gorgeous, with lush animal and plant life, and generally under-populated.  But it’s the people who live here who make Alaska exceptional.

Alaska, May 2013

A week and a day ago, our community was rocked with a double homicide and sexual assault of a toddler.
A registered sex offender broke into an apartment and beat an elderly couple to death, raping the woman and her granddaughter as her mother, a woman in her nineties with Alzheimer’s watched helplessly. The couple were refugees from Cambodia and had already survived unimaginable horrors before they reached the US in the 1970’s.

Old family photo printed in Anchorage Daily News

What good could possibly come from such a hideous set of circumstances?

The community response.

Musicians, artists, deejays, faith communities, and representatives from every walk of life joined together the following Wednesday to raise money to cover the families out-of pocket funeral and medical expenses.
The suggested donation was $10. Many of the attendants appeared to have little more, but they gave generously.  The deejay opened up the concert with the proclamation, “Today, we are celebrating life!”

It was sincere.  Perhaps the sweetest thing of all was the traditional Cambodian dance that the audience joined in on to honor the victims.

In the end, more than $20,000 was raised, one, two, and ten dollars at a time.

“As Alaskans, this is what we do — we unite and we figure out how to help this family as best as we can, to show them there are really good people out here, and hopefully they will feel that love from us,”event coordinator Ma’o Tosi of AK Pride  told the Anchorage Daily News.

Ma’o Tosi with a local deejay

How do we celebrate life Alaska-style after a crushing event like this?
We gather together. We give together. We grieve together.

Money won’t bring back the deceased, or give a young couple their toddler’s innocence back. But hundreds of strangers joining hands and giving of their resources will likely go a long way to helping the family heal.

This is what we do.