Pete’s voice is rising as he directs the latest tirade at Susan, “You want me to pick up your mother from the airport? It is at least 45 minutes from the airport to our house…alone…with her”. Susan reacts immediately, “Pete, all you have to do is turn on talk radio, she loves that kind of stuff. You are being unreasonable here, you know I have a meeting today at 3:00, I can’t get her!” Susan’s eyes seem to get bigger, Pete’s voice, surprisingly lowers, “Suzie, what if we arrange a shuttle?” Susan screams “Pete, get real, it’s not that big of a deal. My father would never react this way to my mother’s asking for help”. Pete’s calm voice suddenly sounds like Darth Vader, slowly and deliberately: “Susan, I am not your father!!” Suddenly, Susan started laughing as Pete made hissing sounds.
These two are masters a de-escalating conflict. Anger is OK in a relationship, but escalating conflict, or anger with belligerence is damaging. Susan and Pete were angry, but they were able to step out of the path of the charging bull without getting gored. Stepping out of the way with humor, or taking a break, or simply taking a few deep breaths, will change the outcome of potential time bombs.
As it turns out, Pete later reported to Susan that the trip wasn’t too bad; her mother was jet lagged and fell asleep on the way to the house. Susan smiled and thanked Pete for “completing the mission”, adding “Let’s use our Jedi powers to get through this one. She will only be here a week”. They both laughed and did get through it together.