Both parties typically help to build the symmetrical or complimentary relationship. It takes “two to tango” and two to form either kind of relationship. Kathy must not only assume a “one-up” position. Dave must also agree to assume a “one-down” position. Furthermore, he must find some indirect gratification for this “one-down” position. Otherwise, they would both be competing for dominance and a symmetrical relationship would be formed. Alternatively, neither might wish to be dominant and a relationship of mutuality and partnership might emerge. We found that some enduring couples seem to relate easily to one another in either complimentary or symmetrical relationships. Other couples have found ways to be together than are more mutual.

Learning How to Manage Conflict

Rebecca and Bill are very clear about their style of fighting and see both advantages and disadvantages in the way they have • decided to get angry with one another. Rebecca begins by offering her perspective:

Oh, we talk. Usually one of us gets mad, and then we talk about it. Sometimes, the one that is mad will keep it inside for a while and then there will be an explosion and then we talk about it. And then, sometimes after the explosion, we won’t talk until the anger has worn off a little. The rare situation is when I get o involved in something that I have to write Bill a letter because when I try to talk to him, I get so emotional that I can’t say all the things I want to say.

Bill is somewhat more quantitative in his analysis of their fighting behavior:

78% of the time I persuade her to agree with me. 14% of the time she persuades me to agree. 8% of the time we agree to disagree and 1% of the time we disagree and smolder and smoke for a while.

Rebecca then points out that she often gets mad at Bill (as was the case with many women we interviewed) precisely because of the way in which he gets mad:

There may be something bothering him, but he will hold it in and then fly off the handle at the first thing that frustrates him. I want to tell him to just go for a walk! We both are fatigued because of the kids and that is what seems to precipitate most of the fights — our fatigue. Sometimes, the kids just get out of hand and neither one of us wants to deal with it, but we have to. We get really tired of not having an out.


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About the Author

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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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