How do you decide how much of a relationship conflict’s flotsam is worth pursuing? How do you focus on the important matters in a relationship conflict and not get sidetracked by trivial ones? Janet, a reader, contacted me about my recent post, Starting a Difficult Conversation. She asked,
I’m thinking about how sometimes a relationship is like Fibber McGee and Molly’s where the closet never does get cleaned out – and every time you try to have a productive conversation, the door gets opened and all sorts of distractions, old issues, non-issues, and everything but the thing you were looking for spills out. You examine this thing and that, but simply don’t get the job done…I agree that sorting through the things that fall out of the closet is a patient and kind-hearted way to bring things into order. But I’m not satisfied that people always have the time and attention to do the sorting. Is there no other way to cut through the clutter than to pay attention to every little thing, however briefly?
My short answer is that the idea isn’t to spend time with every single item that falls out of the closet. Life is short. Some things belong on the yardsale pile, while others should go straight to the trash bin.
But Janet’s good question begs a more thoughtful answer, so here are some of the ways I help my clients cut through the clutter in relationship conflict:
At the end of the day, not everyone may be ready to or interested in doing the work you want to do. If you’ve diligently tried out options like those above, then it’s time to take stock in the relationship and what you want from it.
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