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Old 08-25-2001
JeffH
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On board conflicts

I think that resolving on-board conflicts depends heavily on the two people involved, and their love and commitment toward each other. Living with anyone on a small boat can create tensions. There are bound to be traits and issues that you don''t notice ashore but in the close accommodations and ''no-where-to-go-ness'' of a boat underway, can really become irritating.

My wife and I met through sailing. I was campaigning my boat in the rather aggressive Laser 28 one-design fleet. I needed a foredeck person. Laurie had been racing on J-24''s and did foredeck. She came highly recommended.

We hit it off right away. Laurie had not done much cruising but was an experienced sailor. Things worked well for us in our day to day lives, on the racecourse and at first as cruisers but over time we began to run into ''issues''.

Before Laurie and I had gotten together I had single handed my boat a lot and most of the woman I had dated were non-sailors so it was more like single handing with passengers.

As a result, I had typically I just sailed the boat the way I felt like and basically did everything on board. Over time, as the blush was off the rose, and Laurie and I more time sailing we began to have friction. When we got together we were sailing on my boat. Now we were sailing on our boat and it took a while for that to sink in for me.

Finally things erupted and Laurie verbalized her resentment that I did not involve her in sailing the boat when we were cruising. We talked about this over the course of a long weekend and I came to understand where Laurie was coming from and she where I was coming from.

We tried a number of things. We took turns skippering. One day Laurie would decide where we were going, would do the navigation and make the decisions, and another I would. We also talked about how we would do things. Before this conversation I would simply say, we''re tacking and throw the helm. If I Laurie did not move to handle the tack, I simply handled it. To me it was no big deal but after we had our chat, we began a different process. If one of us thought it was time to do something, they would say what they were thinking of doing and why they were thinking of doing it. The conversation typically went something like, "I think we ought to tack and out of the deeper part of the channel during slack tide and before the current is against us. What do you want to do here?" (Or "Do you mind breaking the sheets?") This is not a hard thing to do once you get in the habit but it engages the other person in the process and allows them to voice an alternative idea.

We do a lot with ''passwords'', words that have special meaning to two of us. For example, there are times when Laurie just feels like being a passenger. This is done with humor and a password. She''ll typically say something like, ''Time to go be a boat bimbo'' which roughly translates to "I am going to lounge about the deck and leave you to sail. Where do you want my weight?"

Some are a matter of necessity. Such as when things really get difficult with weather or other problem on board. I actually have a lot more years of boat handling and skippering under my belt and at those times by mutual agreement I take over and we work as a team but clearly I am the one making the decisions. When things are really dangerous, like the time we got caught in 65 knot winds, I need to be able to stay focused on the situation and I can''t always take time to talk or listen for that matter. Laurie like most people in that situation wants to talk almost out of nervousness. We have a password for that situation as well. I typically say, "I need to be able to think." From conversations that we have had at calmer times this translates into something like "I am suffering a bit of sensory overload so only pass along information that you think is highly critical."

One of our best working passwords came out of a pre-marriage class that we took. We had an inter-denominational wedding and Laurie''s wanted a priest from her church to officiate in the Christian part of the wedding. (He was a neat guy but that is off the point.) In order to do that we had to go through a pre-marital course at her Church. We''d each been married and divorced previously and so approached this course with the feeling it was just another box to be checked like getting a wedding license. When we got into the course we actually both found that it was very helpful. One of the most helpful hints came from a gentleman who''d been married for more than 50 years. He said that when he and his wife had a dust up, as soon as he knew he was right he apologized profusely.

Now then, since Laurie and I were each in the room when he was talking this lead to one of our most effective ''passwords''. When one of us notices that the tone of a ''discussion'' gets too heated to be an effective exchange of ideas, that person will quickly apologize. Of course, the other person''s retort is always, ''Don''t you try to apologize first''. It usually breaks the tension and results in a little giggle. By having a ''password'' that suggests, with humor, that we are fighting to be right rather than trying to work through to an mutually agreeable resolution, we are able to stop the pattern that is emerging. We can then pull away from the kind of discussion that can be hurtful to a relationship and find a calmer ground to at least try to understand the other person''s position, see what we have in common in our stance and perhaps come to agreement on whatever we can.

We are both very competent people who are used to making decisions for ourselves. We are also competitive and used to directing other people. Without a way to work through things, respect for the other''s opinion (even when you disagree with them) and an understanding that there is almost no issue that is more important than not doing damage to the other person or our relationship, I don''t think we could have lasted as long as we have.

Good luck with your book,
It is sure needed!
Regards
Jeff
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