Sarah awoke in a sunny mood. Today she would lunch at her favorite restaurant with her best friend. Her mood rapidly clouded when she tripped on her husband's dirty clothes, crumpled on the floor beside the bed. In the bathroom, she found a wet towel thrown in the tub and toothpaste globs in the sink. Her anger began rising like mercury in the sun. She breathed deeply, counted to 50 and headed for the kitchen, where she was faced with a table littered with crumbs, an empty milk carton saluting her from the counter, and dirty dishes in the sink. She reached for the phone and pounded out her husband's work number. He answered with a cheerful hello.
"You've done it again," she shouted.
"What's your problem?" he replied.
"I'm not your maid, that's my problem. How many times have I asked you to pick up after yourself?"
"You're off the wall. Maybe you should see a shrink."
"You've got nerve calling me a nut, you pig," she shouted into a dead line.
What went wrong? For starters, Sarah and her husband were clearly not listening to each other during this exchange.
On the road to conflict resolution, listening is the superhighway. Not surprisingly, listening is nearly absent in conflicted relationships. Here's why: Most people have not been taught conflict resolution skills. When a conflict arises, "discussions" cycle out of control and no resolution occurs. This leaves you terminally ticked off, which means that the next time your hot topic resurfaces, you are more likely to blast your mate rather than initiate a constructive discussion. When you come at him with both barrels, his natural reaction is to put up his dukes rather than prick up his ears. Since he's not listening to you, you turn up the volume, hoping to blast the wax from his ears. But the louder you get, the less he listens. Instead, he resorts to defending, justifying and counterattacking. This infuriates you even more, so you crank up the volume and