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Are You In A Relationship? A Reflection of “Understand, Communicate & Resolve” Training Through SCCR

By Haley Weir, MsC Mediation & Conflict Resolution Student

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The half day training course offered through The Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution was full of practical, effective tools when dealing with conflict in relation to young people and families. Understanding conflict style, RESPOND to stressful situations (consciously decide how to convey the message) instead of REACTING (be taken over by instinct and act in the moment, mindlessly), compassion and understanding for others going through a different developmental stage than your own,(AKA remembering what it was like to be a teenager *cringe* but necessary) effective intervention and wonderful mediation tactics such as active listening, open-ended questions, de-escalation and “I” statements to name a few.

But the thing that struck me the most from the open learning session was when the training leader asked everyone to raise their hands if they were in a relationship. My eyes immediately began to cut as I scanned the room for others with their hands clasped in their laps or on the desk either out of solidarity or awkwardness of being the ‘single’ ones out. I immediately thought, well he never specified what KIND of relationship surely it is a strange question to ask the marital status in a CPD and of course this was the point of the excercise. I must’ve typed the word “relationship” approximately 10, 000 times (and I am not finished yet!) during the duration of my Masters in Mediation and Conflict Resolution, “building relationships…,” “maintaining relationships…,” “preserving relationships..,” “future professional relationships…,” and STILL I did not feel inclined to raise my hand. It illuminated how we view relationships, even those who work closely with processes to maintain positive relationships for youth work and homelessness prevention. So why are we still wired to view relationships in a strictly romantic/intimate light?

This brought back a vivid childhood memory for me where I was playing ‘house’ with some friends at around the age of 7. I referred to a friendship I have with a female as a “relationship” and was quickly met with some ohhhhhs and ahhhhhs followed by a bit of laughter at my ‘crush’ on a girl. Exasperated I exclaimed, “We’re all in relationships with each other right now, I have a relationship with the mailman too! We are all in lots of relationships!” (Arguably, I was a strange 7 year old) But the point persists, English language seems quite limited in how we refer to our casual and more meaningful interactions with others be it acquaintances or long term friends. The focus on the training was geared towards people working closely with families and youth and it seemed slightly concerning when we were informed the results of the “hand raising” excercise was similar across the board and especially with young people. Is there damage in young people viewing relationships with a purely “who is dating who” mentality?

The training illustrated the importance of communication, as it is the first step to any problem solving framework. It then is critical to talk to young people (and not so young people) about the importance of having safe relationships that are not purely romantic. Helping youth establish and recognize positive relationships versus negative relationships creates a plan of who to turn to in crisis mode when our decision making abilities are jeopardized due to high stress levels. Prevention versus crisis management, a tale as old as time. Instead of asking if a child/teenager the cringe worthy question of, “Do you have a ‘special someone’ in their class,” consider asking how they view their relationship with friends or teachers. “What do they like/not like about them?” “How would their friends describe them?” “If something was stressing you out would you talk to (insert friend name here) about it?” Ensure they understand there are people to turn to when things go badly so that they do not seek unhealthy coping strategies and influences. Challenge them to think about how their actions and reactions affect the people around them that they interact with on a daily basis on varying levels of intimacy/frequency. Change the dialogue away from dating (they probably won’t want to talk to you about it anyway) and towards their place in the world as a human being with other human beings all pushing and pulling away from and together with endless differences, strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll end with some words by Alan Watts and how interconnected we all are in big and small ways, “Other people teach us who we are. Their attitudes to us are the mirror in which we learn to see ourselves, but the mirror is distorted. We are, perhaps, rather dimly aware of the immense power of our social environment.” Youth value their friends’ opinions immensely and it is important to ensure they understand the dynamics of their relationships with others and use them as support.

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