Many people view conflicts in a relationship as a bad sign, as if couples should not have disagreements. At the RELATIONSHIP INSTITUTE, our view is that conflicts are inevitable in intimate relationships, and moreover they can be seen as excellent opportunities for both personal and relational growth. From this perspective, conflict is not something to be avoided or minimized but rather to be embraced as a signal that something needs to change or grow in either or both people.
However, couples often have areas of conflict that cause repetitive arguments that are very difficult to resolve. If you are experiencing such conflict, you might want to try to use the following method to resolve it. If you are unable to successfully resolve the problem using these tools, though, it probably means that the issue is a deeper one which requires professional help such as Couples Therapy to resolve.
To resolve an ongoing conflict:
- Identify the area of conflict as specifically as possible. You cannot solve a conflict which is vaguely defined.
EXAMPLES OF POORLY DEFINED CONFLICTS: “You’re a slob” “The house is a mess” “You always run up the credit cards” EXAMPLES OF WELL-DEFINED CONFLICTS: “I feel we’re not working as a team on the house cleaning” “I feel anxious because we haven’t yet paid off our debts and started saving for retirement”
- Using the Healthy Constructive Communication Exercise, take turns and each of you state your feelings and thoughts on the issue.
-Take as long as it takes for you to state your position and feel that your partner has really heard you -Just doing this Communication Exercise sometimes resolves a conflict, though not always -Do not go on to the next step until BOTH OF YOU feel heard by the other one
- Brainstorm at least five possible solutions, preferably more.
-Be creative! -Don’t worry about being practical; focus on generating as many solutions as possible -Write down all the solutions
- Go through the Solution List together and pick one that you BOTH agree to try.
-There may be one obvious solution that you both agree on -You both may have to compromise somewhat to agree on one solution to try -Remember that no solution is carved in stone! This is an experiment for a limited period of time that will be evaluated and changed if it does not meet both partners’ needs.
- State the Experimental Solution as specifically as possible. Write it down if you like.
EXAMPLE OF POORLY DEFINED SOLUTION STATEMENT: “We’ll put on music and clean the house when it gets dirty”EXAMPLE OF WELL-DEFINED SOLUTION STATEMENT: “Every Thursday night at 8:00 pm we’ll both clean the house for two hours. I will vacuum the living room and clean the bathroom; you will dump the garbage and clean the kitchen floor. We’ll take turns choosing music every other week to help make it more fun.”
- Agree on a specific date and time (usually within 2-4 weeks) to review how the Experimental Solution is going.
-Make sure nothing will interfere with the Solution Review -Use the Healthy Constructive Communication Exercise to review how it’s going for each of you -Decide if you want to continue implementing the Solution -If you don’t like the Solution, modify or enhance it if possible. If that’s not possible, start over at the beginning of this exercise.