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In addressing your own problems, try to finish these sentences as honestly as you can. Each sentence relates to what usually happens when you attempt to resolve conflict:
•When we argue, I usually...
•When we disagree and I feel I have lost, I usually...
•When we disagree and I feel I have won, I usually...
•The way our arguments usually end up for me is...
It is a known fact that disagreement and conflict are normal in any relationship, whether the issue relates to a matter within my marriage/family, at work or other places. As it relates to your marriage, remember that the marriage vows done in the marriage ceremony aren’t, and actually never could be, a promise to live together without conflict (although sounding like a fantasy world, would really be nice).
Most of what follows in this week’s column will, for the most part, relate to conflicts within a marriage although it can easily be adapted to other situations/relationships.
Conflict can be a serious problem (often very serious) for some couples who find themselves continually hassling and fighting. Bad feelings can erupt, resentment can set in, and evcn vengeance can be displayed, which obviously does nothing to get the problem resolved. In fact the build-up of bad feelings can, in turn, provide more fuel to heat up the next argument, whether the next argument is or is not about the same issue.
Conflict, by the way, is not the problem although it may appear to be. The real problem is that disagreements are not being handled properly. Maybe the wedding vows should include a promise spoken by both partners saying, “I will face up to the disagreement and attempt to solve what part I have had in the issue and will work at helping to get it solved or resolved.”
Some things to also consider: couples who have difficulty resolving conflicts can fall into some traps, some of which seem to be a regular pattern of behavior when it happens with young elementary school age children who, without resolution argue about (1) who is right and who is wrong, (2) who wins and who loses, (3) what is/is not fair, or (4) whose fault it is. The who is right/wrong can rarely be resolved satisfactorily because almost all disagreements have to do with factors of opinion, choices, judgments, values and other things which are mostly subjective. Nothing can be proven to make a strong enough case. The same thing relates to who wins/loses: ask yourself the question “is it the most important thing for me to win or avoid losing?”
The fact is it is most important to know that unless both win, both lose. Relate these last couple of sentences to the concept of “no fair”, or who is at “fault” or mostly at fault.
If the stated areas numbered 1-4 seem to not be the best way to solve or resolve conflict, what can be done? Well, you could possibly work for a different kind of resolution to the disagreement, and you might have to decide that the problem is not solved unless:
•you both win,
•you both are right,
•your solution works for both of you,
•you both get as much of what you are wanting as is possible/reasonable.
To help you get started on accomplishing this, you may have to learn some problem-solving skills, some of these which may be natural for you, while others may need to be learned and then practiced:
•get in touch with how you are feeling, what you really want, and learn ways to express yourself clearly.
•listen to how your partner feels, and what he/she wants, and accept it as important information to be considered equally with what you want. This, obviously, requires real listening.
•avoid accusing, blaming, attacking, controlling patterns of behavior. Avoid making statements which begin with “you . . . feel/think/want” , etc., which are often accusatory and controlling.
•although the conflict may be heated, try to keep it in your mind that the ultimate goal is to solve/resolve the issue so in the end you both win. Any of the previously mentioned four traps may sidetrack you.
The following styles of how to resolve conflicts are taken from some of my studies/notes, and are both very humorous, yet if practiced too routinely, could keep you from resolving disagreements.
When conflicts are happening are you like a:
•Turtle — tuck in your head and wait until it blows over
•Tiger — come out with fangs bared and claws extended
•Skunk — raise a stink and then run
•Friendly puppy — try to make everyone smile and be happy
As you can readily see, any of these above named styles, if exercised over the long haul, will be counter-productive.
I conclude with this: it is possible for you to develop problem-solving skills that can and will help you gain success in most areas of your life, whether personal, marriage, parenting or work-related.
What strengths do you see in yourself and in your relationship in the way you deal with conflict? What ways of dealing with conflict would you want to change in yourself? What ways would you like to change as a couple? What can I do with the skills I already have, or can I learn some additional skills that would help?
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