Originally posted on The Family Greenhouse on February 8, 2016 by Abigail Doust
Sometimes when couples try to resolve conflict, they try to hit it all in one conversation. One spouse brings up an issue and the 2 people banter around the issue for awhile. Now while I choose the word “banter,” I think we all know I mean attack, defend, criticize, justify, blow up and/ or retreat and then…repeat. Or was that only at our house? LOL! No, these are typical ways that most couples interact when there is an issue at hand. (You can read more about some of these tactics in this blog.)
There are several problems with the way this scenario went down. Certainly we should all be cautious with attacking, criticizing, defending and justifying. But I think there is a very simple reason why this conversation is not likely to go well: we expect to accomplish too much in one conversation. We are setting ourselves up for failure.
One conversation works when 2 people are like minded quickly. It works when someone feels the conviction they are wrong, and they are willing to own it. It works when there was miscommunication that can be cleared up without tempers flaring. Simple conflict can be solved with one conversation. And a great skill you can add to your arsenal is knowing when one conversation is not enough.
A More Successful Way
For larger issues, we recommend a 4 conversation strategy. We would love to meet with you to guide you through this process. As an overview, here are the 4 conversations:
- Bring up the issue with your spouse. Use the Assertive Communication Formula for the most effective launch of your concern. This means you lead with a feeling (how does this issue make you feel?), connect with a positive about your spouse regarding this issue (when they have done it right or an affirmation of their character in this issue), and then state the issue you have. End the intro by asking for time to talk about it later.
- Seek to understand. When you meet to talk more about the issue, the goal is to share effectively and listen effectively. We recommend using Active Listening in this conversation, as it will keep the emotions down and increase your ability to truly understand. Hopefully you will not only share where you are coming from but also have compassion and kindness for your spouse’s perspective. It’s possible that neither of you is WRONG, but rather just different.
- Go through the steps of Conflict Dialogue. This is when the two of you get to work together to come up with a solution to try. It’s a beautiful process of owning ways you’ve each contributed to the problem, identifying failed attempts to solve the problem and brainstorming 10 possible ways to solve the issue. Together, you choose one solution to try and set a time limit for when you will check your progress (a week or two, a month or a quarter, etc.).
- Check your progress. At the time you both decide, review how well this solution is working. Is it solving the issue? Does it need ditched? If the solution is not working, do not go back to step one! You have several other good ideas from your brainstorming time. Pick another great solution to try. If the solution has potential but needs revised, tweak it to be a better solution. Set another time to review the progress in the future.
The Crazy Cycle
And these are the 4 conversations it takes to make effective conflict resolution when you both see the situation very differently. How do we know? We have seen it happen again and again. When we expect too much form one conversation, we propel ourselves to the crazy cycle of apologizing and forgiving and never actually solving the problem.
Want to talk? We are glad to help you unpack these tools and apply them to YOUR relationship. Some couples have found great progress from taking our Growing Deeper Couples’ Study which covers these same 4 steps. We are excited for you to grow in your effectiveness of resolving conflict. Many more good things will be in your future!