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Helping a loved one deal with a toxic relationship

Spousal abuse
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the oft-times stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.

Question: We’re very worried about our daughter, who has recently been removed from an emotionally abusive cohabitating relationship.

She has a baby with the man in question.

Although he verbally abuses her and has been charged with uttering threats, it doesn’t seem to be enough to get her to commit to the non-contact order that’s in place.

Our family is desperate to help her stay away this time but feel like we’re losing the battle. Every time she attempts to leave, he pulls her back in with apologies and emotional pleas. Social media makes this too easy.

We want to help but are growing exceedingly frustrated by her hesitancy. Any suggestions?

Answer: These are always such gut-wrenching situations. Battered wives have so much stress to deal with, especially when children are involved.

Abused women have had their core confidence shattered from constant verbal assault. The threats make them feel unsafe but their wishes for a loving relationship prevent them from walking away permanently, even when removed from a situation through a legal process. This is a very volatile and emotional conflict.

It has been said that you can’t help someone until they really want to be helped. In the case of abused women, the perpetrator wants the woman to believe that the abuse was their fault.

When children are involved, the woman can feel guilty for keeping the offspring from their partner and remain hopeful that the partner will change.

There are financial worries, child-care concerns and depleted feelings of self worth that make the transition tough to cope with.

When an individual is overwhelmed by stress, alternative realities are simply hard to imagine.

What you can do:

If a woman has been abused for years, it may take two years to even begin to make sense of how she was consumed by the relationship.

Question: I’ve always had an open-door policy with my staff. Sadly, this policy is preventing me from getting any work done and it seems staff are constantly looking to me to solve all day-to-day conflicts and challenges that crop up.

Much of what they come to me for is simply venting and/or something they could easily resolve on their own. How do I find a way to get them to resolve their conflicts?

Answer: It’s true that open-door policies often create more challenges than they were intended to solve. You want to show staff that you care and are available to them, but not at the sacrifice of productivity.

I recently had a client who was struggling with this problem. I encouraged her to adopt a variation of Dr. Edward de Bono’s six-hat thinking strategy. He recommends that every meeting involve a series of six thinking hats. He believes group discussions encounter less conflict if parties agree to the type of thinking necessary to solve conflicts.

This is important when so many executives focus heavily on a black hat style (judgment thinking), which is useful for risk aversion discussions that call for high levels of critical judgment.

I encouraged my client to grab three hats for the next leadership meeting. Each hat should visually represent the type of conversation the individual was hoping to initiate.

This way she could prioritize her availability in the moment as well as the time needed for each, not wasting a lot of internal energy vetting the conversation.

As she implemented this strategy and encouraged the other leaders to purchase or create their own hats, she found it has helped reduce quite a few internal conflicts.

It alerts others quickly to their intentions when she asks, “Which hat should I be wearing for this conversation?”

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. For author image and contact info, click here. You must be an accredited member of the media to access our Sourcebook.

Need help from the Conflict Coach? Contact Faith at conflictcoach@troymedia.com.

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