As I mentioned last week, we all deal with conflict in our relationships and life. The key to management, recovery, and maybe even resolution has everything to do with the startup of the conflict discussion. Drs. Carrere and Gottman in their research found couples who displayed greater levels of negative emotion and fewer positive emotions at the start of their conflict were at greater risk for divorce and marital instability. In other words, the way you approach a discussion about a problem and your partner’s response is highly significant. Research from the Gottman Institute also found that criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, along with emotional withdrawal and anger in relationships predict later divorce.
One of the keys to resolving conflict is communication which includes listening, validation, and shared problem solving. In my practice, I encourage couples to go through my seven steps to conflict resolution which include identification, sharing emotions, validating emotions, brainstorming, negotiating, compromising, and implementing an agreed upon solution. Sometimes couples have difficulty agreeing upon the conflict and have to go through the steps twice. Other times couples can’t let go even after they’ve chosen a solution. When emotions run high you may need a timeout and regroup with appropriate boundaries in place. Be mindful of engaging in respectful conversation and accepting each others differences. In some cases, agreeing to disagree is the best you can do. In communicating, remember to use “I” instead of “you” statements since “you” will often puts the other person on the defensive.
Many of us are conflict-averse and have limited exposure to successful conflict resolution. Believe it or not good things can come from a healthy and constructive approach to conflict. For instance, following an effective conflict discussion there can be increased understanding/awareness, positive behavioral changes, release of negative emotions, increased emotional connectedness, and closure on issues. Relationships grow emotionally stronger when you successfully deal with conflict. But remember you have to speak it to solve it.