Many good relationships can be tarnished by conflict. Conflict is truly inevitable when two people come together and the ability to manage it and find solutions will go a long way to predicting how long they might stay together. In fact, many observers will suggest that it is probably the most important aspect of a relationship. Conflict will always be there and that is not a problem. How it is managed is.
Dealing with conflict without a framework or system, often brings out the worst in people. We become defensive, aggressive, passive and not rational. Issues that could be theoretically solved quickly last for hours, days and sometimes longer because neither is willing to let go and be the ‘bigger’ person. Often we need to win, be right and that means someone has to lose and be wrong. Often, a period of ‘point-scoring’, ‘tit for tat’ and dragging past issues up prevails making resolution difficult. This also destroys intimacy and trust and over a longer period erodes the basis of the relationship. We are either on the attack or we are stonewalling. Not many couples can truly say that they deal with conflict effectively but with a few skills and some learning, things can truly improve and a couple can start to believe that engaging in effective conflict mamagement is not something to be avoided but to a large degree, can actually improve the relationship. One of the most effective methods to start with is to set the rules of engagement.
I have been offering online therapy for over 10 years. During that time, I have built up a speciality in many areas of psychology (especially Codependency) and helped many clients move forward. Contact me for a free consultation. I engage fully with my clients to ensure the best possible chance of recovery. I firmly believe that awareness is important but action is the decisive element of recovery. I accompany my clients along that road not only by offering sessions focusing on their issues but as a resource between sessions too.
When I mention rules in therapy, there can sometimes be instant resistance. People do not like rules. They see them as restrictive and inflexible and even a throwback to school and parental influence. However, rules create a framework and a reference point that can be tapped into when emotions are running high and escalation is likely to happen. The following is a good example of a set of rules that were recently put together by a couple in therapy. It appears to work for them but it is their set. Every couple would need to find out what works for them.
- Check The Temperature. Many people try to deal with conflict when emotions are running high. This is never going to end well and in fact, will probably make the situation dramatically worse. Never, ever try to resolve conflict when anger and resentment are present. If you feel the emotions rising, it is very important to withdraw from each other and take a cooling down, time out. It is very important to state how long this will be and when discussion will take place.
- Prepare. While away from each other, prepare yourself mentally, cool down and write down what you want to say. Watching TV or browsing might distract you but won’t help with preparation. If one partner is not ready, then an extension can be asked for.
- The Relationship Is Not Doubted. When the conditions are right to talk things through, it is often a good idea to confirm that you are taking through a single issue and the relationship is not being doubted.
- Establish The Do’s And Don’ts. These can be adapted by different couples but generally a good idea is to establish good practice for the conversation to come. Treat each other with respect, no aggression, no bringing in past issues, no mention of divorce or separation (unless it is meant), no talking over or interruption are all common. It is also important to decide what kind of discussion it will be. Is it just listening, a call for action or a joint solution-focused approach?
- Don’t Forget The Physical Touch. At the point of conflict, the person on the other side of the table is probably the last one you want to touch! However, physical touch increases connection and intimacy and combined with eye contact and effective listening will bring an element of trust and teamwork.
- Listen, Paraphrase and Clarify. I cannot stress enough the value of this. Many people enter conflict either shouting the other down, not listening or listening to reply. Paraphrasing and clarifying very rarely happen. I often teach the ‘Indian Talking Stick ‘ method. This means when one person holds a pen (for example), only they have the right to speak. The other must listen and paraphrase back what they understood plus any clarification that is needed. The pen then moves to the other side. It promotes listening and understanding. However, if tensions rise again, don’t be afraid to take another break.
- Promote Teamwork. Once the issues have been talked through, and both parties are satisfied that things are back to normal, it might be a good idea to start a solution-focussed discussion on how to avoid these issues in future.
- Print Out Your Rules. Once rules of engament are established, print them out and refer to them frequently.