Resolving conflict in a relationship doesn’t have to require a PhD in neuroscience. Here are five steps that help ensure a successful outcome during conflict resolution. Best of all, most of us already have these five skills, we just get out of the habit of using them.
1. Soften your startup. Bringing up issues in your marriage isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a dramatic difference in the outcome of a disagreement based on how an issue is brought up. Discussions tend to end on the same note they began. If you start an argument harshly – meaning you attack your spouse verbally – you’ll end with as much or more tension than when you started. Make statements that start with “I” not “you.” Describe what is happening, don’t evaluate or judge. Be clear and polite. You can complain but steer clear of criticizing. What’s the difference, you might ask? A complaint is geared toward solving a specific problem. Criticism is global, and adds negative words about your spouse’s character. Here’s an example:
Complaint: “I’m really angry you didn’t take out the trash. I thought we talked about this and agreed it would be your chore.”
Criticism: “I swear, you forget everything. I can’t believe you didn’t take out the trash. You’re so irresponsible.”
2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts. A repair attempt is exactly that: an attempt to fix something. In unhappy marriages, even the most carefully crafted repair attempt can fall on deaf ears. Why, you may ask? Because negativity causes defensiveness. The best strategy is to make your attempts obvious and formal, this emphasizes their importance. Here are some examples of repair attempts:
“That really hurt my feelings.”
“I don’t feel like you understand me right now.”
“I need your support.”
“Can I take that back?”
“So, what you’re saying is…”
“Can we start over again?”
“You’re right, I see your point.”
“I think my part of this problem is…”
“I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
3. Actively manage your emotions. The first step is to stop the discussion. If you keep going, you’ll become overwhelmed. Let your spouse know that you need to take a break but that the conversation is important and you will let them know when you are able to continue. Usually breaks last between 20-minutes and 2 hours. During your break spend time calming down by doing something relaxing or unrelated: clean, exercise, take a walk, listen to music, etc. Avoid thoughts of how righteous or innocent you are.
4. Compromise. Like it or not, finding a compromise is the only way to move forward in the relationship. Talk out your differences in a calm and systematic way, not in a helter-skelter, here-there-and-everywhere kind of way. Accepting a compromise is built upon the willingness to accept your spouse’s influence. In other words, for a compromise to be successful you can’t have a closed mind to your spouse’s opinions and ideas. Sorry guys, but typically men have a harder time accepting influence from their wives than vice versa. Once you’re able to listen there’s nothing magical about finding a solution you can both live with.
5. Be tolerant of each other’s faults. This basically boils down to having good manners. It means treating your spouse with the same respect you’d offer to company. Sometimes marriages get bogged down in “if only” or, “but you.” If only your spouse were taller, smarter, more emotionally intelligent, or a better communicator all your problems would be solved. The problem with this mindset is: as long as this attitude prevails conflicts will be very difficult to solve. However, once you get past the barriers that have prevented clear communication, difficulties are easy to solve.
As with any new habit or change, it will take practice and feel a little awkward at first. Push through that uncomfortable feeling so that you can realize the benefits in your marriage as well as other relationships. These tools not only work in marriage relationships, but in parenting, work, school, and other areas of life that include people!
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harmony Books.
Our team toured the amazing Shelterwood campus in September. Shelterwood is a teen residential program located in Independence, MO offering hope to teens and families around the country since 1980. It was an incredible opportunity to meet other counselors and share lunch together. What a great introduction to another wonderful resource in the community. It will be exciting to explore ways that we can partner in the future.
The MooseMobile was invited to participate in the 2016 Johnson County Old Settlers Parade in Olathe, KS. Board members, Craig & Lorie Rookstool, made a great impression winning 2nd Place in the Novelty Floats division. Thank you MooseMan for representing us everywhere you go and thank you to Johnson County Old Settlers for inviting us to participate in such a fun event! We look forward to continued opportunities to impact lives in Kansas City.
Peace Partnership is looking for an individual to join our team to head up the fundraising side of our organization. If you are or know someone highly qualified to take us to the next level, please click here to apply for the position.