We are often asked in P.E.T. whether it is possible for one parent to resolve conflicts by the no-lose Method III approach while the other does not. The question comes up because not all parents take the course with their spouses even though we strongly urge that when there are two parents both participate.
In some cases where only one parent is committed to change to the no-lose method, perhaps a mother, she simply starts resolving all her conflicts with the kids by using the no-lose method and the father continues using Method I in his conflicts. This may not cause too many problems, except that the children, fully aware of the difference, often complain to the father that they no longer like his approach and wish he would solve problems the way their mother does. Some fathers respond to these complaints by enrolling in a subsequent P.E.T. class. Typical of such fathers is the one who showed up at the first session of a P.E.T. class and admitted:
"I'm here tonight in self-defense, I guess, because I began to see what good results my wife was getting with her new methods. Her relationship with the kids has improved and mine has not. They talk to her but they wont talk to me."
Another father, at the first session of the class in which he enrolled after his wife had been in a previous class, made this comment:
"I want to tell you women who are taking this course without your husbands what you might expect from him. As you start using the new methods of listening and confronting and problem-solving with the children, he is going to feel hurt, left out. He will feel his role as a father is being taken away from him. You will be getting results, but he can't. I lashed out at my wife and said, 'What do you expect of me--I'm not taking the damn course.' Do you understand why I say now that I can't afford not to take the course?"
Some fathers who do not learn the new skills and remain content with their Method I approach are often given a bad time by their wives. One wife told us that she began to build up resentments and ended up being quite hostile toward her husband because she could not stand watching him resolve conflicts with power. "I see now just how much harm to the children Method I produces, and I just cannot sit by and watch him hurt the kids this way," she told the class. Another said, "I can see he is ruining his relationship with the kids and that makes me feel disappointed and sad. They need their relationship with him, but it is going down the drain rapidly."
Some mothers enlist the help of class members in P.E.T. to generate the courage to confront their husbands openly and honestly. I recall one young mother who in class was helped to see how much she herself actually feared her husband and therefore had avoided confronting him with her feelings about using Method I. Somehow, by discussing this in P.E.T., she gained enough courage to go home and tell him the feelings and had identified in class:
"I love my kids too much to stand by and see them hurt by you I know what I have learned in P.E.T. is better for the kids and I want you to learn these methods, too. I've always been afraid of you and I can see you're doing the same to the kids."
The effects of her confrontation astonished this mother. For the first time in their relationship, he heard her out. He told her he hadn't realized how much he had dominated both her and the children, and subsequently agreed to enroll in the next P.E.T. class in their community.
It does not always work out as favorably as in this family, when one parent continues to use Method I. I am certain that in some families this problem never does get resolved. While we seldom hear about it, it is likely that some husbands and wives never do come together in their methods of resolving conflicts, or in some cases a parent who has been trained in P.E.T. methods may even return to her old ways under pressure of a spouse who refuses to give up using power to resolve conflicts.*
*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book