When I was in high school, in a class about some of the conflicts that raged in Europe in the 20th century, I was exposed to the idea that the ancient Greeks had a philosophy about conflict. This philosophy looked at the reasons that nations went to war and it divided those reasons into three categories:
More recently, however, I have found that the conflicts that emerge from the decline and dissolution of interpersonal relationship can be viewed in many of the same ways that war was viewed in ancient Greece.
Below are examples of each of the three reasons for the conflict. These examples have crossed my desk JUST IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS:
Casus belli: These are the things that people tell themselves about why a relationship ended.
Proschemata: These are the things that people tell others about why a relationship ended.
When it comes to working through conflict, it makes sense to focus on the prophasis – the real reasons that the conflict exists. People, however, tend to insulate themselves with the casus belli – they tend to want to believe what they’ve told themselves about the situation, so it makes reaching the prophasis a difficult endeavor at best. When asked, they often fall back on what they’ve told their friends or family about the conflict. Their proschemata sounds like a well-rehearsed litany of what went wrong and how the decline of the relationship wasn’t their fault.
Part of the skill and a huge part of the goal of mediation is to listen to people describe their causae belli and their proschematae…and try tease out enough details that we can start to understand the real, deep, underlying truth behind the conflict. If we can do that, if we can isolate the prophasis, then we can start to work on ways to get through the conflict – we can work towards peace.
Alex Tillson is an experienced family mediator in the Portland, Oregon area. He specializes in domestic relations issues such as divorce, custody, parenting time and other family disputes. You can reach him by phone or email: