Conflict in any close, loving relationship is inevitable. Fighting at a level that will wake the neighbors is not. Follow these guidelines to help you truly resolve conflict, not just battle it out.
- Set aside time to discuss the issue with your spouse. “Discussions” in the heat of the moment tend to escalate quickly. Ask your spouse to set aside time to discuss the issue when you and your spouse are both calm.
- Look at each other. Body language speaks volumes in any conversation, but even more so in conflict resolution. Do not try to work on a project while you are talking. Sit down together and look at each other throughout the conversation.
- Keep distractions at bay. If possible, talk after the kids are in bed or when you are out together without anyone else around. Vow to make your time together a priority by resisting answering the phone, watching TV, working on the computer, or anything else that diverts attention from your spouse. Give your mate and the problem at hand your full attention.
- Keep the main thing the main thing. If you are supposed to be talking about how you felt when you were left alone at the party, keep the conversation focused on that. Do not bring up last year’s Christmas gift or the fact that the dog was left outside last night. Focus on the main thing and see it through to a resolution.
- As you keep the main thing the main thing, also remain in the present situation. Maybe this has happened before, maybe many times before. Resist the urge to bring up all the times in the past when the same situation has occurred. Even in a court of law, only certain references to past behavior are allowed. Stay focused and stay in the present.
- Focus on the issue at hand, not your spouse’s character. Attacking your spouse in a way that is belittling or critical of his or her character is not acceptable. Remember that your goal is to resolve the conflict, not annihilate your spouse in the process.
- Maintain respect throughout. It is easy to be flip or uncaring if your spouse responds in an unexpected way or starts to get defensive. Resist the urge to sink to sarcasm or hurtful words when the conversation gets hard.
- Resist the temptation to generalize. Avoid using such inflammatory statements as “you always” or “you never.” Chances are good that these terms do not really apply. It may seem like they do, but does your spouse “always” or “never” do what he or she is being accused of? Probably not. This is a sure sign that the conversation is declining quickly and will certainly get a rise out of your spouse.
- If your spouse is attempting to tell his or her side of the story, do your best to understand his or her point of view. It is possible that you misunderstood your mate’s actions or he or she didn’t know it was a problem. Seek to understand what his or her thoughts and feelings are.
- Let your spouse speak without interruption. Even if you are the one who feels wronged by your spouse, do not monopolize the conversation. Resist the urge to speak your mind then shut down. Be respectful and do not interrupt. Men especially will start to shut down verbally and emotionally if they feel disrespected by interruptions.
- Take a break if the conversation gets loud or emotions are escalating. Do not drop the conversation completely, but there are times when it is best to revisit the issue at a later date when cooler heads prevail. Leave the conversation on a positive note and set a time to come back together to talk.
- Remember that your perception of the situation could be wrong. Maybe you were left alone at the party while your spouse spent most of the evening talking with someone else. Could it be that this person is a business contact offering future work to your spouse or a friend in crisis who needed someone to talk to? Could it be that your mate’s actions were not a malicious attempt to hurt you even though you felt hurt?
- If you seem to be at an impasse, ask yourselves, “How can we get past this?” There are some conflicts that will not be resolved completely at one sitting, and some that will never be fully agreed upon ever. Come up with a way to live together in a loving relationship even though you may not see eye to eye on this particular issue.
A video discussion of these guidelines is found at Marriage Uncensored. The first 20 seconds or so are from a Christian perspective. The remainder of the video, however, applies to all and should not be offensive to non-Christians.
Fighting Fair provides excerpts from a recent Dr. Phil broadcast on the subject of conflict in marriage.
Both are worth previewing.
Yours for the celebration of marriage,
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