Ever try to build a house without a hammer and nails? Of course not. Nonsense.
So why do we think we can build relationships with no tools?
It’s crazy. Communication tools are the hammer and nails of our relationships!
In that spirit, I want to offer up to you an easy to remember tool. I call it the Hillel Sandwich of Ending Conflict.
You know the Hillel Sandwich. It’s a highlight of the Passover Seder experience. It’s when we put together the matza, the maror and the harotzet into one wildly symbolic combo-sandwich.
Now, part of the genius of the Seder is that it has these foods that represent psychological states. Matza is about humility, simplicity, authenticity. It also represents that which is essential. Maror is about bitterness, suffering. Harotzet is the sweet and sticky stuff. It’s supposed to represent the cement that held the Egyptian building blocks together.
Rabbi Hillel comes along and says, “Eat them all together.” Make a sandwich. The Hillel Sandwich.
That’s how we’re going to approach conflict. Like a sandwich.
Imagine that a husband and wife are in the car, late for an appointment. The husband is driving fast and furious to get there. The wife is clenching her seat belt. She yells out, “Damnit Harry, you drive like a maniac!” He gets exasperated, feels criticized. Throws back some derogatory remark to her. “For G!d’s sake woman, I wouldn’t have to drive like a maniac if you hadn’t taken an hour to get ready!”
She blames, he counter-blames. Negativity reigns.
Or on the other hand, the wife could have been a conflict avoider and smothered her frustration with her husband’s driving. Pushing her feelings into repressed mode and let the resentment build until it explodes in some unfortunate expression.
Either way you cut it, this is not a happy car ride.
But now let’s imagine the wife remembers the Sandwich.
First the Matza. The matza is a simple, humble, and genuine statement of appreciation. What is something that you genuinely value about your partner in this situation? What is essential here?
She begins: “Honey, I can see that you are really working hard to get us there on time. I appreciate that!”
Next, the Haroset: She shares something sweet & vulnerable about herself: “I recognize that I took a really long time getting ready this morning and that threw us off schedule. Sorry about that. I’ll try to move faster next time.”
This kind of statement creates a sweetness that allows him to feel connected with her. Sharing our own vulnerability first always opens up the heart and ears of the other person to take in some vulnerable feedback about themselves.
The Maror: The vulnerable thing about him: “I feel super uncomfortable with the way you’re driving. I was terrified when you sped through that stop sign. Can you please slow down? I’d rather be late than dead.”
This is the marror. He’s not going to want to hear it. It’s bitter. But it’s also the truth and needs to be shared, not just repressed. It’s a crucial part of the sandwich.
Another Matza: Finally, end with another positive piece: “Also even though it’s stressful, I’m excited that were going to this meeting together. We don’t get to spend much time together during the day and I’m happy to be doing this with you!”
This is the final piece of matza – some simple and humble piece of appreciation that cuts to the essence of the moment –the fact that we are together and essentially happy about that.
Now I know this might sound contrived but it is possible to talk this way. It just takes a good dose of consciousness. And a framework to have in mind.
Take a minute now to imagine your last conflict; be it with your partner/your friend/your family member.
How could it have gone down differently? How could it have brought you closer together?
Replay the scenario using the sandwich formula.
Haroset: Vulnerability about self
Marror: Vulnerability about the other
Fight the good fight. Create connection and intimacy by talking through the conflict. Conflict doesn’t have to wreck your relationship. It might just rectify it.