Sophie Gooddog and I spend a lot of time at my mom’s house. We always stay in the guest room there. A few weeks ago, my brother, who is allergic to dogs, was coming and was going to stay in that room. He asked me to vacuum it for him. But I knew that Sophie’s fur was only part of the problem. The room also needed a major dusting. It hadn’t had a real scrubbing in a long time. My mom, who is in her nineties (and never goes in there), doesn’t see the dust, but I do. But I hadn’t done anything about it! (Don’t judge!)
I found myself getting resentful as I pulled out the paper towels. ‘Why am I doing this for him?” I thought. “Why do I have to do everything?” I knew it was going to be a big job. I could have stayed in that resentful place, riffing on how overburdened I was. I could have stayed angry and blameful. It could have been a big fight. And in the old days, I would have done just that.
But instead, I decided to turn this around. I thought, “I’ve been staying here almost every weekend. Why didn’t I do this 2 years ago?” By asking myself that question, I took the power back into my own hands. Instead of being resentful and angry and blaming my brother, I realized that I was doing something to take care of myself. In fact, cleaning felt like the best gift I could give myself! I pulled out the rags and the Swiffer and the Windex and the ladder. I mopped. I dusted. I scrubbed. I came across my old piano books! I threw out a mattress that was under the bed. Heck, I even cleaned the windows. It took 4 hours and it felt GREAT. And when I was done, it looked – and felt — a million times better. (Why didn’t I do this 2 years ago??) My brother came and didn’t have an allergy attack. And now, when I go, I will enjoy a cleaner, brighter room! Now, I am grateful to my brother for asking. What could have been a huge problem turned into a huge benefit. Who knew?
When I’m working with divorcing couples, I sometimes see them getting into an interminable fight. Sometimes it seems that they’re more interested in fighting than in finding a solution! This is what my mentor, Gary Friedman, calls a “conflict trap.” It can be like quicksand – easy to get in and hard to get out. I try to get them to look at things from a different perspective. To reframe their thinking, the way I did. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Have you ever found yourself in a conflict trap? If so, what did you do to get out of it?