Additional Tools to Resolve Conflict:
It is imperative that both partners accept the “influence” of others. Typically in relationships, there is a top and a bottom, and the top has ultimate veto power. Relationships are most effective when each party has equal veto power with most issues. Further, Dr. Gottman found that in the happiest of marriages, men accepted the “influence” of their partners. Examples of “influence” include a belief that you can learn from your partner, not rejecting their opinions and believing that they can also come up with good solutions.
Partners that make effective repairs have functional and successful relationships. This means that functional parties resolve problems or arguments during the argument. When couples resolve each argument, problems are resolved at that time and do not become additive and resurface during a future argument. Further, having a partner who has the ability to say they are sorry is crucial. Being able to say you are wrong takes courage and trust and is helpful in reducing conflict and having a loving relationship. Creating an atmosphere where one can break the negativity is helpful. One can use humor or offer their partner a cup of coffee or tea after the argument, ask their partner for a hug or make light of the argument without invalidating the other. Make-up intimacy also helps make peace and reconnects the partners. Moreover, having a sense that your partner will accept your efforts to improve the situation and vice versa is paramount.
Making compromises is key to building trust and commitment and ensuring safety. Having a sense that your partner will give way on things if there is a disagreement ensures safety. “Black and white thinking” – such as “I’m right so you must be wrong” – is dangerous. Couples must be able to give and take in an argument and share power.
Also, couples need to fight with the end in mind. So what should the end in mind consist of? The end in mind should focus on resolving the issue and simultaneously ensuring your partner feels good during and after the conflict. Both partners must control their stubbornness. Couples should practice calming techniques, meaning they should pay attention to their heart rates. When we have a heart rate above 90 to 95 beats per minute, we are emotionally flooded and have difficulty being rational in arguments and are in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. When we are flooded, we should pause or take a time-out for 20 to 30 minutes from an argument and then resume discussion in order to resolve the conflict. Just as we should not spank our children when we are angry or emotional, we should not argue or discuss important matters with our partner when we are angry, or we will inevitably say or do something that we regret. Most importantly, if you need a break from an argument, take a break, but resolve the issue immediately following your break.
Watch for signs of flooding – like feeling overwhelmed, not being able to stay calm during arguments, wanting distance, and small issues becoming big ones. If you are flooded, take a break.
Finally, I have illustrated Safe Talking Techniques that have been adapted from Markman and Stanley in “Fighting for your Marriage.” These techniques enable each partner to speak without interruption.
1. Use of a jointly valued item such as a talking tool (for example, a wedding ring or a photo of the family or the couple).
2. Each person takes turns to hold the item and the person who holds it also holds the floor.
3. The person listening then repeats back what they have heard and checks that it is correct.
4. The other person then takes hold of the talking item and speaks while their partner summaries.
Dr. Gottman has developed a five-step tool to discuss an issue or major problem that needs to be resolved. Remember the goal is to gain a greater understanding of where your partner is coming from rather than to win the argument. When I work with couples, I want them both to feel like they have been heard, understood, and are accepted for their position. Often achieving the above deescalates the situation and the couple finds resolution. Couples that get along and don’t have conflict easily agree to disagree. Couples who have high conflict are threatened by disagreement.
In using the five steps below, couples should work through each step together.
1. Feelings: Share how you felt about the situation. Do not say why you felt that way. Avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings. Stay in your lane.
2. Realities: Describe your “reality.” Take turns. Summarize and validate at least a part of your partner’s reality. Remember, their reality should not be a threat to you. During the conflict, we have selective attention and therefore partners remember the same situation differently.
3. Triggers: Share what experiences or memories you have had that might have escalated the interaction and the stories of why these are triggers for each of you. Own your own trigger. Don’t blame, criticize, or minimize your partner’s triggers.
4. Responsibility: Acknowledge your own role in contributing to the fight or incident. This is the opposite of defensiveness. When we take a little responsibility this is deescalating for our partner.
5. Constructive Plans: Plan together one way that each of you can make it better next time. Now that you both have a better appreciation of where your partner is coming from, you have been heard, and you each have taken some of the responsibility for the regrettable incident, you are better able to find a resolution with your partner.