Updated: Apr 14
Some people are terrified of conflict and have convinced themselves that conflict is a sign that things have gone awry in their relationship. But conflict is inevitable and a normal part of all relationships. People are different and see the world through different colored lenses. They have different personality tendencies and beliefs around what 'love' should look like and feel like. Two people won't agree on everything, all the time, nor should they or the relationship could be redundant. We learn from conflict. The key to successfully and respectfully resolving conflict is not fear or avoid it but develop the skills you need to resolve it in a healthy way.
Mismanaged conflict turns into arguments that can cause great harm to a relationship, but when handled in a respectful, positive way, conflict provides an opportunity to strengthen the bond between partners. Whether you’re experiencing conflict at home, work, or school, learning conflict resolution skills can help you resolve differences while building stronger, more rewarding relationships. So what are some of the most necessary skills when attempting to resolve conflict respectfully?
Listen. To keep a relationship strong, both people need to listen, and by that I mean they need to understand how to insure that their partner feels they’ve been heard. In the majority of conflict, neither person is listening to the other. They are each too busy putting together their rebuttal in their head to actually hear what their partner is saying. The goal in communication through disagreements is not to win but to maintain and strengthen your relationship.
Fight fair. Below the belt arguing is really attacking your partner, not communicating. Keep your focus on the issue at hand. Why? Because if you don't this same issue will return time and time again. Have you ever felt, My goodness here we go again? If you truly take the time to listen so that your partner feels heard, your chances of finding a resolution to your issue increase significantly. When listening, simply respect the other person. Don't judge their feelings. Feelings are important information. Sometimes all a partner needs is for you to hear how they are feeling. To learn more about what it means to listen, and fight fair go to Relationship Help At Home for detailed guidance.
What do you WIN, if you are fighting to WIN an argument? The goal is never to WIN an argument. Think about it. What do you actually win? Conflict is not a win/lose proposition and when reduced to that, conflict will not strengthen our relationship, but instead weaken and destroy it. Conflict arises out of everyday life, misunderstandings, feeling taken advantage of and having unmet expectations. You can't win at attempting to justify why your partner is feeling sad or mad about an unmet expectation. But you can listen to how they are feeling in hopes of being better equipped to meet an expectation around love they may have in the future. There is only one real WIN that comes out of any disagreement or conflict and that WIN is called successful and respectful resolution.
Don’t start arguments over things that cannot be changed. Who won the presidency for example will not change til the next election, so arguing and fighting over how much you dislike, or like, a president for example is really a waste of energy. Stop and ask yourself, can we change anything about this issue that we are discussing and if the answer is no, let it go because you are wasting valuable relational energy.
Don't use personal attacks when arguing. There is a way to avoid your partner feeling attacked during conflictual encounters . Use “I” statements when attempting to communicate how you feel, instead of "You" statements. Avoid sentences that begin with "You are _______." You are mean. You are cruel. You are a bully. You are lazy. Get the picture? Whenever we begin a sentence with You Are, chances are we are following it with a negative and hurtful name call. Instead say, "I feel bad when you do/say ________." In that way you haven't accused your partner, you are instead sharing how you feel. Don't use YOU ALWAYS and YOU NEVER. For example, instead of saying, “You ALWAYS make me feel small” try “I feel small when you treat me in ________ way”. We can ALWAYS argue with an accusation that begins with You Always, simply because it is an over statement. We NEVER receive someone of accusing us of Never doing something. Since beginning a sentence with these terms rarely if ever works to make our point effectively and respectfully, why do it?
Leave out your laundry list of past grievances. Rather than looking to past conflicts or grudges and assigning blame once again, focus on what you can do in the here-and-now to solve the problem. Some people have a talent for remembering past grievances and continuing to bring up dates and times as evidence that their partner is a continued failure. Keep your discussions current. Stay focused on the 'one' instance at hand and by successfully resolving that one issue, you can keep it from ending up on the ever growing naughty list you are harboring.
Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive others. But forgiveness for many is not easy. Depending on if your draw your values from Strength or Warmth you may look at forgiveness differently. People who draw their values from the warmth side of the Primary Colors Relationship Personality wheel believe that forgiveness proves love, that one's ability to forgive and begin again is a righteous and loving thing to do. While people who draw their values from the strength side of the Primary Colors Relationship Personality Wheel can feel that forgiveness is like giving the person who has wronged you a get out of jail free card. But forgiveness is more of a gift to the giver than it is to the receiver because it allows us to release the stress and tension around holding a grudge.
If you begin to feel enraged, disengage. Create a pact that says we will stop, walk away and take an adult time out if our tempers flare. Anger and rage come from a person's extreme personality tendencies and over time tear relationships apart. It is amazing how taking even a few minutes to calm yourself down can save you from saying or doing things you’ll regret. Always remember that you’re arguing with the person's extreme tendencies and no resolution can be found when we are in our personality extremes.
Leave the stewing for dinner. Some people stew over disagreements. It is called rumination, where you go around and around in your head driving yourself a bit crazy with your thoughts and feelings about a disagreement or issue you and your partner are facing. If rumination helped anyone resolve a conflict or issue and I recommend doing it, but it simply inflames whatever situation that is already inflamed. This is where you must take responsibility for binding your own tension.
Find a way to release being flooded with these confusing and upsetting feelings. Create a way to put your negative and stressed feelings away someone place safe so that you can take an emotional break from all the stress and tension. I promise you, you can go and retrieve them when you need them. You won't forget them. However you might find that when you go to retrieve them, they are no longer larger than life and you may be better equipped to actually deal with them.
Dawn is the author and architect of both Relationship Help At Home ONLINE relationship courses and the Primary Colors Relationship Personality Tests and Insight Tools, licensed by relationship professionals and used widely around the nation. Dawn also has a happiness curriculum OverJOYedLife.com that you can enjoy, and a patented children's development tool called CAPABLES.