Friday, October 12, 2007

Dealing With Houdinis

I have met several Houdinis in my life. I am married to one. This typical stress personality tends to shy away from conflict by shutting down emotionally or leaving the scene of the conflict physically. You may find Houdinis hiding out in the garage or tool shed, the basement or bathroom. When conflict comes their way, they will do anything to get away from it. They will change the subject, tune out, give in easily, or drop out of the relationship with no forwarding address.

This type of conflict resolution only leads to more trouble down the road. Houdinis have trouble expressing their true feelings in a situation, which leads to misunderstandings and larger conflicts down the road. Houdinis are often the ones in a marriage who will suppress their feelings with alcohol or drugs or who will one day come to you and say, "I don't love you anymore." It will be huge news to you, but they will say the trouble started long ago. They just didn't fill you in.

You will also see this personality in children. They tend to have fairly flexible and sunny or fearful and cautious temperaments. The flexible kids are hardwired for harmony. They want to please and not rock the boat. But this keeps them from sharing bad feelings and they are more likely to hold grudges. The fearful kids dislike change, which often happens when they share their true feelings. They're more comfortable with the trouble they know than what it could mean to work through a conflict and hope for something better. It could get worse, after all.

How do you keep your Houdini from making a disappearing act?

Acknowledge this personality and think about how you react to conflict. Are you a Houdini? Do you raise your voice like an Old Yeller? Do you stomp and throw things like a Dr. Jekyll? Old Yellers and Dr. Jekylls are quite frightening to Houdinis. Another Houdini is peaceful, but not helpful as you both stew in your own grudges and disappointments.

Stand your ground Houdini. Tame your yelling, Old Yeller. Take a walk, Dr. Jekyll. Then sit down and write a note, send an email or quietly discuss what is bothering you with the goal of finding a solution that works for both of you. It will be hard at first to change the hardwired habit when conflict looms. Recognize the struggle. Breathe. Talk through it even if it feels awkward and hurtful. If the other person needs a break, agree and schedule another time to revisit the issue when it's quiet.

If you can work through this in your adult relationships, you can model better communication with your children. So the next time they have a problem, you are the first one they turn to. That's what we all want as parents, right?