Resolution: Methods of Dealing with Conflict

Without question, the best manner in which couples handle conflicts that arise in marriage is to arrive at a resolution as a team.  Resolving conflicts involves one or both partners changing their expectations or desired outcomes based on an open dialogue.  The goal is to form an agreement while maintaining a strong relationship.  Below are some things to keep in mind with respect to resolving conflicts in your marriage.

(1)  Choose an appropriate time.  Most conflicts do not need to be resolved immediately.  In fact, there are often advantages to allowing some time to pass.  Tempers subside, trivial disputes no longer seem important, and both partners have an opportunity to think about the issue more objectively.  More significantly, it is an important gesture in the relationship for spouses to demonstrate their commitment by making time to work through problems together.  Select a time that is mutually beneficial and a place in which distractions will be minimized.

(2)  Seek to understand.  Understanding is preceded by listening carefully and trying to view the issues from your spouse's perspective.  Understanding involves empathy - identification with another's feelings, thoughts, mindset, and so forth.  A common reason why resolution cannot be reached is because neither partner really understands the other's point of view.  One good technique is for each partner to attempt to explain the viewpoint of the other back to him/her.

(3)  Define the problem.  Understanding one another's viewpoints will help you to define the problem accurately.  Sometimes the problem cannot be easily expressed in a single statement because there are related mitigating factors.  It's not advisable to over-complicate matters.  But, both partners must arrive at a mutual definition of the problem in all its aspects before further agreement can be reached.

(4)  Identify areas of agreement.  Often couples waste time and energy contending for points upon which there are already in agreement.  It is better to identify these points and mutually decide to focus on the areas of disagreement that require further discussion.  This process is also motivating because it is encouraging to feel progress being made.

(5)  Accept responsibility.  The overwhelming majority of all marital problems involve contributions from both partners.  Identify your own role in the problem and state in positive terms what changes you can make that will help.  Ask your spouse for feedback and be open to his/her suggestions and observations.

(6)  Beware of negative patterns.  Throughout the process of attempting to resolve conflicts you must be proactive about avoiding common harmful habits.  [See other articles in this series, below].  Also, beware of becoming defensive, overpowering, dismissive, rude, and so forth.  Resolution is only possible in the context of open communication based upon mutual empathy, commitment, and support.

(7)  Compromise if necessary.  Even when couples openly communicate it is not always possible to resolve every conflict with one hundred percent agreement.  Forming a compromise may not always seem like the absolute best option.  But, it is often a good alternative and, sometimes, the only practical one.  [See related article].  It is certainly a much better option than living in perpetual conflict.

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