People are not perfect, and neither is the world we live in, so it shouldn’t surprise us that our relationships aren’t ideal. Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. Experts tell us that it is a part of every healthy marriage and the same holds true for dating relationships. Avoiding conflict is not the way to romantic bliss. Learning how to handle disagreements with your partner is a big step in the right direction.
Dave Currie, a marriage counselor and marriage conference speaker with 25 years experience as a pastor and college professor sat down with me to discuss some of the important aspects of conflict resolution. He has taught thousands of couples about at marriage conferences across the world. When practiced, these methods will help to resolve differences without allowing feelings of disappointment, bitterness and anger to build up.
Before Conflict Arises
How you behave in your relationship before conflicts hits has a huge impact on how conflict is handled. There are behaviors and attitudes you can put into practice now that will make disagreements a lot easier to handle, and a lot less damaging to your relationship when they do happen.
- Have a pre-determined game plan. Agree on conflict resolution guidelines before getting into a tense/difficult discussion. Decide what is acceptable behavior and what you will both do to try and resolve the conflict. One example of a guideline would be agreeing to talk about one issue at a time (see below). This is especially important in the early years of a long term relationship (the first 10 to 15 years), when you are establishing behavior patterns in your relationship.
- Maintain a bank account: make deposits as well as withdrawals. The best way to have a great relationship is to catch each other doing things you appreciate. Affirm your partner as you see him/her doing something that pleases you. Set the tone for the relationship by affirming – making “deposits”. If all you’re doing is making “withdrawals” by always complaining and pointing out blunders, it gives your spouse the incentive to give up and say, “I can never please this man/woman”. Train yourself to anticipate and be sensitive to the other person’s feelings.
- Practice successive approximations. This is another element of encouragement. It works to reinforce movement in a desired direction. For example, instead of saying “I hate how this place is so dirty!” a better approach would be to say, “I can see that you’re busy. Can I help you pick up?” Remember that there are often better ways to get to the result you’re seeking.
When You Disagree
If you have a pre-determined game plan in place, you’re already a step ahead when a disagreement arises. When you find yourself in conflict, remember that the goal of a disagreement is to find a solution that benefits both parties, neither of you needs to “win”. Don’t set your partner up for an attack, you’re in this together.
- Agree on a time to sit and talk with your partner about the issue. As a rough generalization, most men’s thoughts and concerns are compartmentalized. When he’s at work, he becomes preoccupied with what is before him. The same goes for when he’s at home. So if his female partner interrupts him with an issue when he’s busy with something else (for example, watching TV), it could “push his buttons” to create tension. Set a time to meet with him to seriously discuss the issue in a room with no distractions. It is a more effective way to get his full attention.
- Deal with one issue at a time. Besides helping to maintain order, it is a more effective way to achieve the goal of working through the problems at hand to arrive at a resolution. So identify your concerns, making sure to deal with issue #1 before moving on to issue #2.
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This helps to keep both sides from getting on the defensive. Realize that words are important. They can be delivered in such a way as to either bring healing or destruction. When the word “you” is used frequently when speaking to your partner, he/she will automatically feel accused. This in turn can provoke unnecessary reactions that will only serve to keep you both from resolving the issues in the most simple and straightforward manner.
- Think through problems to avoid misunderstandings. “I didn’t mean that”. “I thought that’s what you said”. How often have you heard these words, or spoken them to your spouse? It is so easy to make assumptions. Be careful to actively listen to the other person and strive to clarify misunderstandings.
- Share your perspective without getting emotional. Women, let’s be honest. More often than not, when we get frustrated, we clam up. But as difficult as it may be, share your perspective while holding your ground. Don’t get too emotional too early. Men often interpret that as manipulation.
Getting Rid of the Root of Bitterness
How is your relationship? Do you find it easy or difficult to communicate with your partner? If you have feelings of resentment and anger that have been accumulating over time, it’s vital that you take action to rid yourself of those toxic feelings.