As a therapist, I often have the privilege of working with couples and conflict resolution skills are a top issue for the majority of couples. It comes down to having some good rules, rules to follow when you are right, for when you are wrong and for the majority of time when conflict is a matter of sorting our and negotiating competing values, rules, roles and beliefs.
This means that in the majority of couple conflict, I will find that people are arguing like there is a right answer or a right way of doing things, when in actuality it's just the melding of two different lives, upbringings, personality traits and preferences that cause the majority of debates.
Right or wrong fighting almost always guaranties a winner and a loser. And a marriage that makes either partner a loser actually in the end makes both lose. No one can truly enjoy winning if their partner feels bad. And if they do enjoy gloating while the other is wounded or embarrassed or disappointed, well then there are other deeper issues to work out.
. Sometimes a decision is either one persons plan or the other, such as where you will go on vacation. This isn't a matter of right or wrong, it's just that sometimes it's hard to find a middle ground.
Rules for when there is a true right or wrong or actual winner or loser
Always be kind,listen well and hear the other person out because if you are wrong, you are going to add a feeling of shame to being wrong
Be willing to admit that you might be wrong and will check things out before dying on your sword for this.
Right or wrong fighting almost always gaurantees a winner and a loser. And a marriage that makes either partner a loser actually in the end makes both lose. No one can truly enjoy winning if their partner feels bad. And if they do enjoy gloating while the other is wounded or embarressed or disappointed, well then there are other deeper issues to work out.
Winning well whether it is being right about an arguement or winning where to go on vacation involves grace and humility and perhaps a little give of some sort to help your partner feel as though they are winning as well. For example if you win by getting to go to the beach for vacation rather than your partners dream of skiing for vacation, give them every opportunity to make decisions on your beach vacation! Or maybe promise to go skiing next year.
5. Losing well, means letting go of resentment, it means apologizing if you are wrong about something. It also means finding the positives in your partners decision.
Some relationships feel like there is one consistant winner and loser. This is not healthy and if one person finds themselves in either the always giving or always taking, or always taking blame or apologizing, again, something deeper is going on and these dynamics need to be explored. Get yourself into therapy. People tend to go to therapy too late when one partner is done and checked out. Go when you both are motivated to work things out.
Sometimes the rightness or wrongness of a decision is discovered in hindsight. For example one partner wants to send their children to public school, the other wants to send their children to private school. Lets say they choose either one of those choices and the child hates it, or is bulllied. The parent who didn't get their choice should not go back with an "I told you so attitude" because we can't know what we don't know ahead of time and we can't always know the outcome of unchosen paths as well. "I told you so", should be banished from vocabulary and attitude. It agains makes a winner and a loser which destroys relationships.
Marriages should always be viewed through the lens of being on the same team. Especially during conflict.
With competing values such as how to spend time, money, raise kids, do chores, usually there is not a right or wrong way, there is usually a conflict in values, upbringing or personality traits. To believe that your way is the right way robs you of being able to grow and compromise and step out of your comfort zone and your familiar ways. I believe God often bring people together, to grow each other, to teach us grace and to teach us to see beyond our own perceptions. But it can be challenging. I believe if the first defining rule of marriage is "we are in this as a team, where we want no winners or losers", it can help in the way people experience conflict.
There is so much more to conflict resolution skills, more than I can address on this post, but this is just a little bit about conceptualizing conflict as a way to to come together as a team, with no goal of winning. When we can let go of who is right and who is wrong and who is to blame when things go wrong, we give our marriages a gift of togetherness and teamwork even in conflict.
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