Friday, November 24, 2006

Openness Versus Hostility: A Post-Thanksgiving Rerun

Often we can draw parallels between high profile relationships and the challenges faced by couples. For example, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and U.S. President George W. Bush are two key figures in the crisis following North Korean missile tests this past summer. There has been much speculation about why Kim went ahead with tests in the face of widespread diplomatic opposition. Some sources suggest the choice of July 4th as the missile test date indicates Kim is after attention, especially to draw Bush and the U.S. into direct talks. Others argue Kim needs an enemy to engage so he can maintain a sense of purpose and bolster his image and importance within North Korea.

Regardless of the actual motives, what seems clear is that Kim's regime:
  • is isolated, with few close relationships;
  • is suspicious and mistrustful of others; and
  • uses aggressive, provocative acts to get a reaction from others.
Personal relationships can exhibit similar characteristics. Certainly many marriages are marked by a lack of closeness, with an unfortunate abundance of suspicion and mistrust. Couples who have difficulties with basic relationship management skills can end up in this type of circumstance, especially if they have issues with open and honest communication, conflict resolution and negotiating mutually beneficial solutions to everyday challenges. Unfortunately these same issues can make it difficult to reverse the downward spiral and start rebuilding trust and goodwill between spouses.

Even couples who normally get along well can find themselves in a similar situation occasionally. Have you ever lashed out verbally at your partner while in the midst of a particularly emotional argument? Do you sometimes say hurtful things to your spouse when you are angry, because you are angry, that you have to admit to yourself later aren't really true? You've been provoked by your partner in some way, so you fire a provocative verbal missile right back. And for what purpose? Because it feels good to lash out when we're angry? Possibly, but it's rarely an effective way to calm the waters and resolve conflict.

Bush and other world leaders face a quandary in trying to decide how to respond to Kim's aggression. They could try to create a closer relationship with North Korea, hoping that improved sharing of information would reduce mistrust in the long term. This might reward Kim's behavior, however, and increase the chances he will be aggressive in the future. They could impose sanctions in the hope that punishments will discourage further missile tests, but this escalates the conflict and validates Kim's view that his enemies are indeed aligned against him.

The same difficulties crop up when one partner uses aggression to get their way within a marriage. How should their spouse respond? Will they give in to human nature and lash back? Or might they try to appease their aggressive partner, with the risk of rewarding the behavior and feeling like a doormat? Neither option is very appealing.

If you find yourself taking a page from Kim Jong Il's book when interacting with your spouse, you might want to rethink your strategy. After all, Kim's South Korean neighbors chose to build open, cooperative relationships with other countries and ended up with the 10th-largest economy in the world. That's an impressive feat for such a small nation. North Korea ended up with famine, economic hardship and few friendly ties with other nations. You should see a similar dichotomy of results when you choose between openness versus hostility with your significant other.

Would you like some advice on how to handle conflict with your spouse? Send in your question today. As always, your identity will remain confidential.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:33 PM

    I couldn't leave this post without a comment since you took the time to write it.

    You are right and i have seen this in some couples i know where one rules through threasts and the other succumbs to the others will every time.
    Threats and out burts only hinder a relationship.
    When one partner dreads the presence of the other you are failing.
    As for Kim, well he is a gangster full of parania that everyone is after him.
    He may be right but showing off and being a bully not only keep the iron grip he has on his people but keeps others at bay.
    Like a bully for a partner.