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Conflict: 3 Steps to Conflict Resolution in Marriage

Do you believe the marital myth that couples who really love each other never experience conflict in their relationship? Well, here’s some welcome news. That’s not true. All couples—at least all the living and breathing ones—have conflict.  But happily married couples handle anger and conflict differently than unhappily married couples—they use something like these 3 Steps to Conflict Resolution in Marriage to handle disagreements in a healthy and mature way.

By Dr. Gary Smalley

After thirty-five years of marriage, my wife and I have discovered that we feel secure in all aspects of our relationship because of the establishment of a simple plan for solving disagreements. Here are the steps:"

1) We first try to resolve the disagreement by simply discussing the situation as calmly as we can. We go back and forth trying to understand each other's positions. We can do this on most subjects. Either she or I will see a logical solution or compromise that we can settle on. In this way, we have truly become one – a successful "blending of two individuals together." Occasionally, we hit the wall of anger on some subject and start defending our positions with enthusiasm. That can lead to escalation of anger, so we usually take a time out and wait until we both calm down to take the next step.

2) We head to a restaurant. Yes, that's right. We calmly sit down at the table or at a restaurant. We can't go out of control with other people there. We use drive-through listening. This helps each person to feel like they're being heard. And we argue by the rules. We hold an object—a fork, spoon, or candle—when we are sharing our feelings or needs about the situation. The one not holding the object simply paraphrases what is being said to gain as much understanding as possible. We take turns passing the object back and forth until we both feel completely understood and validated. Then we start sharing any ideas we can think of that would solve the situation in a win-win way. We use our creative juices to think of some solution to fit both of our feelings and needs. It almost always works. But sometimes we can't do it on our own, so we move to the next step.

3) We ask two or three of our trusted friends to sit with us as we use drive-through listening again. This step has never failed to work. We always go away from the meeting with friends with a solution we can both live with, and it feels really safe to know we can always solve our disagreements. Our friends are like the grand jury—they just help us say what our feelings are and what we need out of the solution. There have been times when Norma and I have been upset with each other during the group meeting, but it has always ended in peace. If it didn't, we would develop the next step. We haven't had to move another step, so I can't tell you what it is yet. But if we were forced into it, we'd keep trying different actions until we found the method that worked best for us.

We keep trying, we never give up—which is, of course, another instance of a positive charge, a way to say, "You're so central in my life I'll do anything to get through problems and clear the way to deeper intimacy."

Related Resource: Conflict: The Four Stages of Marital Conflict


Pillow Talk: End your day: Talking with your child...

When you disagree with someone, how does it make you feel? What do you do to try and make things right?



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