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Wedding Woes: The Results of No Communication With In-Laws

relationship problems no attribution required cc0 public domainI always wanted a perfect wedding. I endured a lot as a young person. My parents’ marriage ended in separation after three years and divorce after only six years. Even though I saw two people who could not get along and stay married, they still cared for one another and even spent time with each other. They never married again for the sake of my brother and myself. This really impacted my life, seeing two people work together despite their inability to completely reconcile the relationship. Therefore, I have always held the idea of marriage with great respect. Coming from a faith-based background, I was also influenced to believe marriage was a sacred and holy commitment. My own wedding occurred a little over a year ago. I really wanted it to be a certain way. However, I can say that while it was quite a beautiful wedding, a splendid ceremony, and always a cherished memory, the day was far from free of discord, dissatisfaction and even from sadness.

Let me first start by saying that I was terrified to get married to my husband. I love him so much, and while he is someone I do want to spend the rest of my life with, I was so afraid the night before that I almost called it off. The fear of failure, of a potential divorce, and of not being able to resolve issues with him almost totally swept me away. The idea of commitment was so scary that I almost backed out of this after nearly three years of being with him.  We also have had our differences for a long time but I decided to take a chance. These fears influenced my behavior during our wedding ceremony. Individuals can see that I was not myself when they look at my facial expressions in the ceremonial pictures. So, my fear was a source of conflict that contributed to my wedding woes.

My second source of conflict came from my parent’s concerns.  My mother was one of the best friends that I ever had. After her death, I missed her being at my wedding. She did not exactly approve of our relationship at the very end of her life. There was this force that was tearing at me internally saying: “Is this the right choice?”, “Are you sure about this guy?”, “Are you making a mistake?” that echoed all throughout my engagement, and again up until the wedding. My dad who is still alive also questioned this relationship. So, the parental influence was a strong source of conflict over this decision and contributed to the wedding woes for me.

In terms of my in-laws, they consist primarily of my husband’s parents and his eight siblings. I have never had a positive relationship with his parents. They and I simply do not see eye to eye. I did not want them to contribute financially to the wedding, as I knew there would be strings attached. Even though they did not contribute to our wedding, they still took advantage of us as they invited many people that I did not even know, and they did so through my husband’s generous nature, as they had him invite all of them for them. Regardless, there were a number of differing expectations each of us had of the other based on family tradition, religious values and lifestyle attitudes. Previous disagreements and values clashes limited my communication with my in-laws and prevented me from expressing my true expectations. This lack of communication only caused more tension, the need to control aspects of the wedding event, and my increasing anger that my needs were not met. The fear of judgment and angst caused me to emotionally and physically distance myself from them during the reception. I spent my energy focused on what they would say or do against our wishes, that the day was filled with stress and sadness instead of the joy you wish for any bride and groom on their special day. Upon reflection, my advice to engaged couples whether in private conversation or during marriage prep is to discuss expectations, and there are many. First, you need to determine your expectations of the groom, bridal party, parents, siblings, in-laws, vendors, etc. and discuss them with your fiancé. While I communicated this with my husband, and while the women, priest, organist, and photographer all assisted me with much love and concern for what I wanted, it still was not REALLY what I wanted. My husband really had NO expectations, meaning that he would be happy regardless. I had many needs, but I held low expectations of this whole situation, actually, due to the way that life has gone. My problem was that I did not exactly communicate what I wanted out of this experience and just expected others to know  what I wanted without me telling them. I would pose the following questions to you in order to illustrate what I learned, and what I believe would be helpful for your situation:

  1. Ask yourself, what do you want to clearly communicate to your in-laws? Clearly communicate what your expectations are to your in-laws as soon as you become engaged. Share with them the type of wedding you desire, limits to how many people can attend the wedding versus the reception , and exactly how you want it to look and feel like.
  • Ask them, what are your expectations about your role during the wedding event? Communicate to your in-laws that this is a very special day for you and your soon-to-be husband. They are welcome to be a part of it. Make sure to discuss what you don’t want to happen. 
  • Ask yourself, what are your boundaries or limitations of unacceptable behaviors from your in-laws, parents or family members? Identify what would really cross the line for you and ensure that you are respectful but firm in your communications. Always show kindness in the midst of anger and discord. 
  • Ask them, what would mutual respect look like at the wedding? For many parents, it is hard for them to let go of their children and therefore a challenge to treat their children as adults. Communicating with your parents or in-laws about what respect looks and sounds like is critical if you don’t want to feel like a child again at your own wedding. They very well might have had different experiences from their own wedding which they might impose upon you.

Here are two additional tips for when things go wrong at the wedding:

  • If mom and dad are rude at the wedding and/or reception, simply pretend like they did not make the remark and walk away until you are able to communicate to them in private. Do not cause a serious scene which only lends to embarrassing yourself, your parents or in-laws and others.
  • If your parents or in-laws invite too many or unknown people to the ceremony and reception, and you are concerned about additional costs or food shortages simply tell the officiant to check in the approved invited guests and politely inform uninvited guests  they are welcomed to stay for the ceremony but unfortunately, will not be able to attend the reception.  This allows those folks to still be a part of the day but preserves time and money at YOUR reception.

All in all, remember not to let the hurtful behaviors and remarks of others determine your mood, reactions and ultimately your happiness for this special day. You will regret it for the rest of your life otherwise. For some tips on managing expectations, listen to last week’s podcast from the Texas Conflict Coach® on avoiding wedding conflict: Common Conflicts and Peace Practices for Engaged or Newlywed Couples  featuring Michelle and Dan Joy!

Have a Great Week,

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore, Negotiation and Conflict Management M.S. Program

 

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Organization and Communication – Surefire Ways to Reduce Conflict When Planning Your Wedding

love-1284492_1920Did you know that there are 6,200 weddings a day in the US and that June is the most popular month for weddings in the US? According to Sound Vision’s article on wedding statistics, the average wedding budget is $20,000 with 178 guests attending the event.  Organizing a wedding is no small feat when it comes to communicating a vision, creating a plan and coordinating all of the moving parts including service vendors, bridal parties, family members and guests.

Planning a wedding can be a very stressful process whether you are having a large or small event. There is potential for conflict to arise all the time, particularly between the bride and groom. My husband Bernard and I are newlyweds; we got married in September of 2015, and we had a 200 person wedding in the city of Baltimore.

I won’t sugarcoat anything, despite being the happiest day of our lives, planning a wedding of that size was incredibly stressful and overwhelming at times. However, the one key way I minimized the stress and sidestepped a lot of conflicts resulting from untold details was remaining organized and constantly communicating. On more than one occasion, vendors would say that I was the most organized and communicative bride they had ever met; a title I wear proudly.

Why are organization and communication so important when planning a wedding? 

Unless you are lucky enough to have a wedding planner, chances are the bride and groom (but most likely the bride), are doing the majority of the planning. There is a lot of details that go into making the day the magical one you envisioned. Being able to keep track of everything is necessary to ensure miscommunication and confusion don’t lead to conflicts.

How can brides stay organized and effectively communicate when planning their wedding?

  1. Get a Binder. My binder became my bible during the planning of our event. I had it organized into sections by the vendor; and I included my contract, pictures of what I wanted, etc. from each particular vendor filed in their section. While I know, it may be easier to have everything located on the web somewhere; I enjoyed having something tangible to hold so I didn’t have to sort through my phone to find stuff.
  1. Imagine What You Want. I am a very decisive person so when it came time to plan our wedding I had a very clear-cut idea of what I wanted which I think made things much easier when delivering my vision to our vendors. I know not every bride is like that, so vendors are great resources for sharpening your ideas. However, it important that you go in with some idea for them to springboard off of that way you don’t end up with a theme or colors you didn’t want.
  1. Ask Questions. I had a vendor tell me they felt like they were in an interview when I came to inquire about using their services because I asked so many questions. Before my first meeting with each vendor, I Googled, ” Questions to ask your [ fill in vendor].” I found that I not only covered a lot of ground, but I was able to see if they would be the best fit for the event.
  1. Create an Itinerary. You may think this is a little much, but I strongly recommend sending out an itinerary the week before your wedding to anyone who is involved: vendors, bridal party, readers, etc. The itinerary I created for our bridal party beginning with the rehearsal and ending with ceremony covered everything they needed to know from what to wear to the rehearsal and times they needed to be there to a checklist of what they needed to bring the day of the wedding. By sending this plan out, I was able to minimize my stress the night of the rehearsal and the actual wedding day, and I avoided having to answer repetitive questions.
  1. Speak Up. I have heard many brides complain after the fact that they didn’t like something a vendor/bridal party/family member did; or were disappointed by something a vendor/bridal party/ family member didn’t do. My rule is if you don’t say it or clarify it you cannot expect them to know what you wanted or didn’t want. Many brides fear being labeled a “Bridezilla” but if you hold back your wishes or don’t make sure everyone understands when things don’t go as planned you cannot blame anyone but yourself.

 

Have a Great Weekend,

Abigail R. C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

 

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SUMMER IS HERE! WHAT’S NEW WITH OUR RADIO PROGRAM?

Ann Margaret ZelenkaThe Texas Conflict Coach® radio program celebrated seven years in April providing community outreach and education about all topics about the everyday conflict in your life. We added this year the new Conflict Chat on the last Tuesday of each month to invite callers to discuss their conflict situations and to chew on disputes we hear about in the news, social media and our lives. Callers can talk with experts and get guidance on their issue.

We could not provide these services without the support of our volunteer guest hosts, graduate student interns, special guests and my Executive Assistant, Shawn Tebbetts. It is truly a team effort. We are growing our relationships with various universities to provide virtual internships. The interns learn about various areas of conflict resolution practice and where they can apply their skill sets based on their interests. Many interns have a passion to work with families or youth. Some have enjoyed the idea of providing negotiation skills to the workplace, and yet others in the legal arena or international affairs. Interns are responsible for researching topics of interest to the ordinary person and write weekly blog posts to help deal with certain situations. They are integral to producing quality programs by identifying radio topics and finding guests around the globe. Interns also get the opportunity to use social media to educate and engage, and to co-host radio programs during their term.

Joining us this summer and fall term is a new graduate student intern, Anne Margaret Zelenka from the University of Baltimore’s Master’s program in Negotiations and Conflict Management.

Here is a little bit more about Anne Margaret.

My name is Ann Margaret Zelenka, and I am completing a Master’s of Science degree in Conflict Negotiations and Conflict Management at the University of Baltimore in December 2016. I have been working as a federal intern for the U.S. government at several agencies as of recently. It is my hope to one day attend law school and become a federally-barred attorney, but I have many other interests including humanitarian and international affairs, intellectual property matters, private consulting, and others. I am trying to find my niche in this field, and it is my hope that this internship aids me in doing so.  A little bit more about me personally is that I like to crochet, sew, cook, sing, write poetry, read books, spend time with friends, travel, volunteer, and participate in self-improvement activities. I have studied abroad in Poland, the Philippines, Canada, and have spent time in Mexico as well. I am very involved in on-campus activities and currently hold several part-time jobs as a lab assistant, tutor, and personal assistant to an author. I volunteer for many outside organizations including my church and other places that are important to me.

Currently, I live with my family in Baltimore County, MD. I have one brother and two half-sisters, and my dad is still living. I married in 2015, and my husband is working in the pharmaceutical industry. About my childhood and young adulthood: I attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Hampden, MD for pre-k, then a Christian school in Baltimore City, MD for kindergarten, and then I was homeschooled from 1st-9th grade by my mother, who recently died. I then went to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic High School for the remainder of my high school career, where I graduated 3rd in my class. I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Jurisprudence from the University of Baltimore, Magna Cum Laude and with other honors. 

We welcome, you, Ann Margaret Zelenka to our team!

Pattie Porter, LCSW, ABW

Founder and Host

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Mediating with True Believers

 

  Church congregations are not immune to conflict. Beth Padgett and Alexandria Skinner would argue that conflict is a sign of an active, engaged, and vital congregation. The question is not whether religious communities will have conflict, but how they will respond to it when it happens. Beth and Alexandria will discuss patterns of church conflict, as well as how mediators can invite clergy, staff, and members into trans-formative conversations where firmly held beliefs are part of the conflict and its transformation.   

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Siblings That Squabble Don’t Have To Punch and Shout

 

 

Summer is ending and the school year draws near. Our kids have had lots of fun times together. Siblings can be the best of friends, but conflict and disagreements are also a natural part of their ever-changing relationships. We may not always realize it, but we have many ways to help our kids learn how to “fight fair” – to work out disagreements without punching or shouting.

Join me and my returning guest, Parent Coach Janet Bonnin of Fine-Tuned Families. We will dive into a great discussion with many tips and ideas you can take to head off big “blow ups” and guide constructive communication. We will also be joined by a super mother of eight, Maggie Luevano, and two of her kids who are part of the Hill Country musical group, “Mariachi ‘L'”. Maggie and her kids will share stories of growing up in this fantastic family, a brief history of the group’s formation, and how the family has dealt with sibling disagreements over the years. Don’t miss this great conversation!     


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Handling Stress After a Traumatic Event

 

Sometime in our lives we will unfortunately witness or be impacted by a traumatic event. We hear about these situations in the media all of the time…a very disgruntled employee who kills their boss and then commits suicide; witnessing the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center towers; a bank teller who is robbed at gun point; a bus accident involving the death of children; or a natural disaster like that of the recent earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan. All of these situations create what is called critical incident stress.

We bring the topics of stress management and emotion management as part of National Stress Awareness month. And tonight, we focus on Handling Stress after a Traumatic Event. We will talk with Denise Thompson with Crisis Response Consulting, about how you can identify the signs and signals of this kind of traumatic stress; and mechanisms for coping during these difficult times.           

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Cooling Down Conflict in Your Family Business

 

 Being in business with your family can bring lots of rewards, including financial security and personal pleasure in working with people you know well and love. But it can also be the source of misunderstanding, antagonism and painful conflict. The show looks at common causes of conflict in family businesses and how that conflict can be resolved and even prevented.                   

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Striving for Change in an Imperfect World Starts with Yourself – An Honest Reflection

perfect-948197_1920-1Our society is obsessed with perfection, and though it is something to strive for, it has proven time and time again to be an unattainable goal. I decided two years ago that I would stop putting pressure on myself to be “perfect.” Instead, I focus on my shortcomings and try little by little to improve those traits. I think it is important to keep yourself in check, own up to your flaws and actively try to improve upon them to grow as a human being.

I often debate with others about the human capacity for change. Can people change their ways? The resounding response to that question is usually “no.” I have asked that question several times, and most people believe that once someone’s behaviors are set they will remain that way. I disagree with this response as I optimistically believe in a human’s capacity for change. I also think that if more people took the time to evaluate their shortcomings and actively try to improve them rather than pointing the finger at others for their issues, our society would be in a much better place.

I began journaling recently about my inadequacies with a narrowed focus on my ineffective conflict reactions. I write down day-by-day where I fell short and what I could do better the next day. I believe if I am more self-aware of my triggers, my reactions, my behaviors I can actively adjust these traits so that they will cease to be an issue in the future. If I am completely honest, I will tell you that that the thought of passing on some of my more negative flaws on to my future children terrifies me, and so, I use that too as a driving force to actively change my ways.

So where do we begin? Make a list, an honest list about all your shortcomings in general, or narrow your focus to where you are flawed when engaging and addressing conflict. My common flaws are listed below:

* Patience – While this is a trait I have improved on immensely, I still struggle with remaining patient. I noticed my lack of patience showing particularly at work when someone is struggling to understand something that I have explained several times.

Solution: Take deep breaths. Use my breaths to calm myself and look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.  While I might type out very detailed instructions, someone might need me to walk them verbally through it for them to understand.

* Defensive – I take a lot of things personally, which I believe is because I overthink everything. I also tend to feel that everyone is out to get me, which is simply not true. So when someone critiques me, I first response is to jump into defensive mode.

Solution: I need to be mindful when I feel myself becoming defensive. My body has a physical response; I cross my arms; I feel my muscles tighten. When this happens I need to ask myself, why am I becoming defensive? Is it justified?

* Outspoken/ Loud – I have a tendency to say the first thing that pops into my head without giving it much thought. Again, I have improved on this a lot, but I still have ways to go. I also raise my voice when I get upset which can cause others not to listen to me.

Solution: Bite my tongue and think before I speak. I currently will take deep breaths, and think to myself, “What am I trying to say here? Could this be offensive?” If it is something I want/need to say I will evaluate how I say it before I do which allows me to deliver a message in the best way possible.

* Clarification – I assume things way more than I can to admit. I assume things based on expectations that I have and don’t ask for clarification. When situations don’t pan out the way I assumed they would, I find myself frustrated and a lot of times in conflict.

Solution: Ask more clarifying questions and know all the details that way expectations can be managed.

Abigail R. C. McManus

Apprentice

 

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Are You a Fearless Challenger? Moving from Debate to Dialogue

deciding-1364439_1920I was watching the morning news where violence erupted at a recent US Presidential race rally. Hotly contested, this year’s presidential race between the Republican and Democratic parties include flying accusations, lying, shooting barbs and winning at all costs. Of these running mates, the question debated is who would best serve as the US leader? And yes, families at dinner tables, community leaders, political parties, friends, and co-workers are arguing and forcing their points of view of which candidates are relevant, competent, and reputable.  The arguments focus on who is right, points out flaws, and often takes a strong position for one candidate over the other. It is the news of the day, every day.

I bring this up because I see and hear the damage that debate causes among us versus a more constructive dialogue approach to discussing vast differences of opinions. So, what is the difference between debate and dialogue? In school, we learn that debate is a formal, structured process to bring opposing arguments over a particular topic or issue. However, what we see and experience is that informal, unstructured debate based on false assumptions, what we hear in the media, and turning that into our truths. In Daniel Yankelovich’s book, The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation, a debate is focused on right and wrong, truth or lie, black or white. It is taking an offense approach leading to a defense reaction. If I am right in my thinking, then you MUST be wrong in your opinion. Right? A debate involves behaviors that are often destructive and damaging to relationships, communities, and whole societies. Debating often turns into being combative, judgmental, opinionated, and insulting.

Dialogue, on the other hand, is about listening to understand and to learn about the issue discussed. Dialogue is about sharing our personal experiences as it relates to the topic without judgment of the other person’s different points of view. We all have a fundamental need to be heard and understood. Dialogue provides an opportunity to be open-minded about the differences we encounter and to engage in these differences in a constructive and productive manner. I had a wonderful opportunity to train and become a facilitator in the Soliya Virtual Connect program. The program aims to provide cross-cultural dialogues to engage people from various cultures, backgrounds and experiences from around the globe. This virtual platform tapped into strong differences of opinions on all topics from religion to social and global challenges including immigration, terrorism, gender roles, and even US Presidential candidates.

So, the similarity between debate and dialogue is that there is a topic or issue which has varying points of view that people feel strongly about and want to vocalize. Conflict will result from these discussions. An informal debate often takes a nasty turn where dialogue can promote learning and deeper understanding. In a debate, there is a winner and a loser. In dialogue, all points of view are acknowledged without the need to convince someone they are wrong. As a co-facilitator working with my partner, Kirti Kler from New Dehli, India, we worked very hard to engage our group on very difficult topics. We knew we needed to guide the conversations into conflict territory and challenge our group’s thinking, invite them to share their personal experiences while being fearless ourselves. We listened for moments of opportunity where these strong differences of opinion emerged to engage the conversation further. Sometimes, it felt daunting, scary and questionable about how we were to turn these debates into constructive dialogue. We persevered with the help of our fabulous coach, Amanda Brown and the Soliya team.  By the end of the eight weeks of dialogue sessions, the group learned skills in how to engage more effectively in dialogue within their families, local communities, and workplaces. After three months of training and facilitating, Kirti Kler, Amanda Brown and I were awarded the “Fearless Challenger” award by the Soliya team in seizing the difficult moments and turning them into opportunities for deeper understanding and learning.

Are you willing to be a Fearless Challenger? Then simply listen to learn and understand the other’s point of view. Don’t be afraid of it. Engage in the difference.

Learn more about the Soliya Virtual Connect program and how you can become involved.

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach

 

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Managing Conflict at the Dog Park – Tips for Making it a Pawsitive Experience for You and Your Dog

Photo Credit- Abigail R.C. McManus

Alvin Dog Park Picture

My husband and I are the owners of a super energetic 8-month-old Bull Terrier named Alvin. We live in a rowhouse in Baltimore City so taking Alvin on walks and to our local dog park is essential for all of us to remain sane. The dog park in our area is very spacious with lots of room to run, and there are a substantial amount of dog owners in our area, so there is never a shortage of dogs with which Alvin can socialize.

Since we began going to the park, I have observed two conflicts that frequently arise, which has inspired me to write this post.

The first conflict I have observed is the distracted dog owner. Most of the owners at the park are very vigilant of their dogs. However, there have been a select few who are busy talking on their cell phones, socializing with other dog owners or their friends, or watching the games on the athletic field that are next to the dog park.  The issue with the distracted owners is that they miss their dog going to the bathroom, so they fail to pick up after their dogs. Or they miss their dog bothering other dogs, and they don’t step in to stop it, which sometimes leads to aggression among the dogs. I have heard some owners make passive aggressive comments towards these distracted owners. I have also observed owners have a tense exchanging of words over these issues.

Tip #1 Try not to make assumptions about the other owner. It may be difficult to do because you might assume they care less about their dog than you care about yours because they are not watching theirs as much. However, if you voice this assumption, the other owner will likely get defensive which could escalate issues.

Tip #2 Make the owner aware in a non-aggressive manner. Rather than saying, ” Your dog went to the bathroom over there can you pick it up?” You could politely interrupt them by saying, “Excuse me I saw your dog go to the bathroom over there, I just wanted to let you know.” If they didn’t see it, they would likely be thankful for making them aware as some owners can get snippy when another dog owner doesn’t pick up after their dog.

The second conflict I have observed is the inexperienced owner in the dog park. These dog owners become frazzled if another dog continues to mount or keeps gravitating towards their dog. The owners usually don’t understand that dogs play with each other by sparring and wrestling around. Dogs can sense when their owner is on edge or uneasy which can, in turn, make the dog feel the same way. An anxious dog can quickly turn into an aggressive dog if they not careful. Again, I have observed the inexperienced dog owners glare and make negative comments at other dog owners which have resulted in some heated exchanges.

Tip #1 Research before bringing your dog to the park. It is important that you understand how dogs interact and socialize with one another.  By doing this, you will be more prepared for the situations as they arise. Also, it is important to know your dog. If your dog is anxious or aggressive, bringing them to the dog park may not be the best option as other dogs may increase these traits and potentially cause issues with other dogs.

Tip #2 Socialize with the other dog owners. Ask, “Is your dog friendly?” before allowing your dog to interact with theirs. Or if the dogs begin sparring, check-in with the other owners to make sure they are okay with it. Just by doing this can alleviate potential tensions at the dog park.

It is important to remember that pet owners consider their pets as part of the family and thus they can be very protective over them. Learning how to handle conflicts constructively with other pet owners can ensure happiness and safety for your pet.

If you would like to hear more tips for conflicts involving pet’s/pet owners check out our archived podcasts here: Animals-Pets

 

Abigail R.C. McManus

Apprentice

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