1. There must be a basic agreement that both people have a legitimate right to feel and think the way they do. No one is wrong simply because she disagrees with the other person or does things differently.
There is something wonderful about being told, “I disagree with you, but you have a legitimate right to think and feel the way you do.” This substantially reduces the threat of feeling wrong just because you’re different. That’s a troubling feelings that can result in defensiveness and combativeness.
2. Both persons need to be fully heard by their partner and they need to know they have been accurately understood. It’s more important to be heard and understood than to win a point. If I know that the other person understands my thoughts and feelings, I almost automatically feel relieved even if our differences continue.
The technique I have found to be most helpful in this regard was originally proposed by Dr. Carl Rogers, a famous American psychologist. It goes like this: Each partner is required to put into his or her own words what the other person has said before making the next comment. Reflecting your partner’s feelings and thoughts like this contributes surprisingly to the resolution process.
3. Your points of disagreement need to be specific clearly and then agreed upon. Most conflicts occur over minor disagreements.
Imagine this. You and your husband are arguing about what to do tonight. He wants to go to a professional basketball game, but you want to rent a movie.
“I want to go to the game, because it will determine whether the Knicks will make the playoffs. I’m a big fan, and this is a crucial game. I want to be with you and see the game.”
“But wait. I’m tired. This has been an exhausting week and I just need to stay home. I want to rent a movie, fix a simple dinner, and watch the movie with you in front of the fire.”
As the argument builds, new dimensions keep emerging. You say tickets are too expensive and there might not be any tickets available by the time you get there. He says you never want to go anywhere, that you are tired a lot, that you can watch a movie anytime.
Here’s whether conflict-resolution skill number three comes in. Together, specify the differences. Basketball vs movie. Staying home vs going out. Spending a lot of money vs being thrifty. You’ve cleared away the other points that confuse things and identified the root issues.
4. An attitude of give and take greatly facilitates resolution. You need to say, “Let’s see, where can I give and where can you give so we can move toward one another?” When a couple says this, they are on the threshold of actually benefiting from their conflict. This statement conveys an attitude of compromise, an obvious desire for both persons to be winners. There is a willingness to change in order to obtain a mutually satisfying final result. It’s wonderful to be “partnered” with somebody who wants you to be a winner without being a loser himself.
Here’s the kind of thing you might say about the movie-basketball game impasse: I know how much you want to see the game, and you’re right, we can watch this movie anytime. Would you feel ok watching the game on tv? “That would be ok. I’d love to go to the game, but I know you’re tired. Let me order pizza so you don’t have to cook.”
Conflicts are easily resolved if the partners’ basic attitudes toward each other are healthy, positive, and loving. Conflict becomes dangerous and difficult when one or both persons feel uncared for, misunderstood, and minimized. When you sense the person you love is eager to resolve a difference in a way that will leave you both feeling good, you become cooperative. You’ll probably become combative if you feel she wants to win and hardly cares about what you want.
5. When you resolve a conflict with your partner, congratulate each other. Praise the person you love for the qualities that allowed both of you to get your needs met and feel important in the process. Reinforcement.
My wife and I have an ongoing conflict that revolves around the temperature in our home. I like it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than she does. We try to compromise to maintain the peace between us and keep us comfortable.
One night, she went to bed early and I stayed up late to watch a delayed telecast of the UCLA-Oregon basketball game. Around midnight, I realized the room was very warm – even warmer than I like it. But I didn’t do anything about it because I was so engrossed in the game. Eventually, I went on to bed without checking the thermostat.
The next morning, she said, “Part of the reason we didn’t sleep very well last night is because the heat was left on so high. I had turned it way up so it would be nice and warm when you came home from work.”
I was deeply touched by that and said, “I’m really sorry that I left it on so high. I was excited about the game, and I just went right by the thermostat without checking it.” Then I said what touched me, “That was so loving of you to have turned the heat up so I would feel warm at dinner.”
I tell this story to get her response, which is a good example of conflict-resolution skill number five. It didn’t come until that evening. She said in a casual moment, “That was wonderful the way you handled the matter about the heat. I thought about it several times today at work.” That’s all she said and it made me want to create some more conflict right then so I could handle it wonderfully again. It made me feel a whole new burst of love for her. Imagine! I felt all that simply because she reinforced me for the way I had reinforced her. We had managed conflict in a way that left both of us feeling more loved by and more loving toward the other person.
An excerpt from Finding the Love of Your Life by Neil Clark Warren