Only child adult challenges in relationships:
2. Dealing with conflict
I am continuing with the theme of only child adults as partners and having looked at the first two of the four issues I believe only child adult can be challenged by, I am now going to revisit conflict.
Dealing with Conflict
I have already written about this in ‘So how does the only child adult deal with conflict?’ which I can sum up here by saying that:- we tend to avoid dealing with it appropriately!
Instead, on the one hand, we either deny we are upset, sulk, or walk out or on the other hand, we indulge in out-bursts of fury and hostility. The appropriate way, is to be calm, talk about the issues involved, be open to the other person’s opinion, negotiate and find a win – win solution.
Any child in a family with no siblings misses out on the opportunity to deal with conflict with another young person. Anger with a parent is difficult and can lead to a child hiding their anger or acting it out in a childlike way via a tantrum of some sort. Unfortunately it seems may adult onlies never move from the spectrum of these two positions, and therefore do not develop mature ways of dealing with conflict. Alison commented about her husband’s behaviour:
“…sulking is something my husband does a lot and I believe it is the way he learned to deal with conflict as a child. Because he was always the child interacting with an adult, my husband was never the one in charge. He never had to control the argument or even fight on equal terms. He knew his mother would sort out the problems and soothe his feelings. By sulking he demonstrates his hurt feelings and waits for the adult- now me - to soothe them.”
Similarly, Alisonrothkopf, wrote:
“I am blamed for everything as my husband seems unable to accept adult responsibility for his emotions or to understand that everyone else has feelings and needs too.
Our conflicts revolve around him acting out his emotions like a teenager in public and in front of our children.
He seems unable to see himself as part of the human race or to grow up emotionally.”
Learning to deal with conflict in relationships is important. We gain intimacy by confronting difficult situations and working through them. If we avoid conflict in a relationship, we cease to have real intimacy and this eventually can lead to estrangement and a feeling of not being seen on both sides of that relationship. Conflict is natural in any relationship because we are individuals and will inevitably see things differently according to our own upbringing, culture and personal beliefs.
However to resolve conflict we sometimes need to step outside of these views and remain neutral in order to listen to the other person’s perspective. This entails a mature sense of self. I mean by that, we have to be able to know and accept ourselves for the person we are not the person we would like to be! If we feel comfortable in ourselves we are much more likely to be able to hear the other person’s viewpoint.
Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties for the only child from enmeshed parental relationships is to feel separate enough in themselves to be able to stand alone and feel confident to negotiate a compromise. So many of us have been told how to behave – what is right and what is wrong – and have not been given opportunities to negotiate differences in opinion and world view. This is what makes the young only child seem ‘selfish’ because they are usually late developers in honing these skills. Sadly this is true even of only child adults if they continue to believe they have some sort of moral high ground, because they have never been able to feel strong enough in themselves to stay neutral and negotiate.
In my next post I will look at the remaining challenges for adult onlies: