: Conflict Styles and Tactics

: Conflict Styles and Tactics

Unit 5: Conflict Styles and Tactics

Deborah Davis, Ph.D.

“He Said, She Said…”

Marie, an adult college student and mother of a fifteen-year old son,

has been experiencing an ongoing conflict in her home for some time now.

She and her fiancé, Mike, have been at odds for the last several months of

their relationship. At the center of the conflict is Lenny, Marie’s son by her

first marriage. Marie and Mike argue over the way Marie punishes Lenny

when he doesn’t do his household chores or violates his curfew. Mike feels

Marie is too easy or soft when it comes to disciplining Lenny. When an issue

arises that requires her to discipline her son, her fiancé is very vocal about

his disapproval of her punishment choice. Conflict always comes of these


Last Saturday night, for example, Lenny came home way past his

agreed upon curfew. Marie was nervously waiting in the living room for

Lenny to return, thinking something terrible had happened to him. When

Marie heard Lenny’s key in the lock at 2:45 am, she jumped up, ran to the

door, and greeted Lenny with, “Where have you been? I have been so

worried about you! I thought you were lying on the street somewhere! Why

didn’t you call me?”

Lenny, unable to get a word into Marie’s assault of questions, stood in

front of the open door, waiting for Marie to stop pummeling him with

questions and accusations. Meanwhile, Mike strolled down the stairs, half-

asleep, wondering what all the noise was about. When he reached the

bottom stair, he recognized a familiar sound: Marie and Lenny are at it

again, he thought to himself.

Mike stood quietly for a moment, listening to the accusations,

questions, denials, excuses between mother and son, hoping he could find a

moment to interject. Lenny, casually leaning against the wall, stared straight

ahead while Marie

continued her assault. Mike stood silently as Marie told Lenny that such

behavior would not be tolerated; there would be punishment for his

irresponsible actions. “In fact, Lenny,” Marie said, “as a result of your being

inconsiderate and not notifying us about your being late, you will need to be

home by 10:00 pm for the next four Saturday nights.”

“WHAT?” screamed Lenny, “that is so unfair!”

Mike then intervened, saying, “ Marie, that’s not real punishment. If I

had stayed out past curfew, my father would have beaten the living….”

Marie, trying to control her anger, turned to Mike and said, “This is not

about you; this is about my son.”

After a long pause, Mike said, “Fine. YOU deal with it. I am going to

bed. In fact, why don’t we all go to bed? We can deal with this tomorrow,”

whereupon Lenny vaulted up the stairs and slammed his bedroom door,

leaving Marie standing,

speechless. Each stood silently, Marie looking up the stairs after Lenny and

Mike, staring at Marie. Mike heaved a loud sigh and turned to go up the

stairs, back to bed.

Very quietly, Marie said, “Why did you do that?”

“What?” asked Mike innocently.

“Tell Lenny we would deal with this problem tomorrow,” Marie spurted


“You know I need to deal with this problem now!” Marie was feeling

the resentment grow.

“I just thought,” Mike said, “it’s late and telling him that he has to be

home by 10 o’clock for the next month is not severe punishment for what he

did, is it, Marie? Tomorrow, we can decide what real punishment he should

get, alright? Let’s

go to bed.” Again, Mike turned to go up the stairs, back to bed.

Marie, beside herself, followed Mike, and grabbing his arm, blurted

out, “Real punishment? How would you know? You never had children. What

do you know about being a parent? You never even call your own mother.”

“You are too soft on that boy—that’s all I know. How will he ever learn

the difference between right and wrong?” Mike responded.

“All I know,” said Marie, “is that he is my son and I know what is best

for him.”

“Fine,” said Mike, “I’m going to bed.” He turned and stomped up the

stairs. Marie stood alone at the foot of the stairs, seething.

The next morning, Marie sat at the kitchen table, quietly sipping her

coffee. As Mike came in, he moved to Marie and slowly leaned down to kiss

her. Her body rigid, she pulled away. “You’re still mad at me, Marie?” Mike


Marie said nothing, her lips pursed in a frozen sneer.

“Come on, honey,” he said. Still no response. Mike stared at Marie for

what seemed like an eternity. Obviously, she was not going to even look at

Mike, much less say anything.

Just at that moment, Lenny burst in. Sensing Marie’s repressed anger

and Mike’s futile attempts at conversation, he said, “Hey guys, sorry about

last night. Next time, I’ll call, I promise. I really don’t have to be home at 10

for the next four

Saturday nights, do I? I’ll do whatever you want around the house,” he

whispered to Marie.” I’ll rake the leaves; I’ll take out the trash; I’ll even

mow the lawn—just let me come home late, okay, Mom?”

All eyes were on Marie. She looked up at Lenny and her heart melted.

My son, she thought. He’s a good boy and he didn’t really do anything

wrong. He is not a thief, she silently assured herself. “Oh, okay, honey,” she

lovingly said to Lenny,

“we can forget about it this time. Please, though, call the next time you

know you are going to be late.”

“Sure, Mom, sure,” Lenny said, and off he went.

Mike stared at Marie, frozen to the spot. “Well, that will teach him how

to be responsible,” Mike said.

“Look,” Marie jumped in,” I know how to handle my own son, so

please don’t interfere.” She began washing to coffee cups, the clattering

almost deafening.

“Interfere?” Mike screamed. “I thought we were a family and I had

some say in the matter.”

“You do, Mike, you do. It’s just that…,”

“Forget it,” Mike interrupted. “I don’t know what you want anymore. I

need to go to work,” and he stormed out the back door.

Marie stood at the sink, letting the hot water run between her fingers,

remembering that today was her birthday.

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