Tag Archive for resolving conflict

Expectations, Skills, & a Happy Marriage

What are your expectations in marriage? If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The “lived happily ever after” expectation just doesn’t really work out that well. We all have our down times. Nor does the “you complete me” mentality make for a happy marriage. In the long run, we need to become complete as individuals before we can find true happiness with a marriage partner. (Read “You Complete Me” Kills a Marriage for more.)

On the other hand, having low expectations will also lead to a less satisfying marriage. After all, if a person has low expectations for their marriage, how hard will they work to make their marriage better? A long-term satisfying marriage requires investment. Healthy expectations for your marriage will lead to a greater investment in your marriage. Think of it in terms of money. If I thought hard work would profit me five dollars, I’d only work hard enough for five dollars. However, if believe hard work would lead to a thousand dollars, I’d put in a little more time and effort. Low expectations lead to less investment which leads to a less satisfying marriage.  So, what are healthy expectations for a marriage? Here are a few. After you read them over, consider what you would want to add to the list.  

  • Long-term commitment.
  • Verbal affection.
  • Physical closeness.
  • Honor and respect for one another.
  • Consideration for one another.
  • Quality time together.
  • Acceptance.
  • Honest sharing.
  • Open communication.

A happy marriage takes more than healthy expectations though. A happy, satisfying marriage requires the skills to build those expectations, to create an environment in which those expectations might become reality. In other words, a happy marriage requires the relationship skills and problem-solving skills needed to make healthy expectations a reality. (Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst?) Perhaps some of the most important skills needed to create a happy marriage include the skills of listening, resolving conflict, compromising, negotiating, and honoring one another. Take the time to improve in those skills every year…your marriage will thank you for it!

A Few Random Thoughts About Marital Conflict

There’s a New Yorker Cartoon in which a couple is arguing. One says to the other, “I can’t remember what we’re arguing about, either. Let’s keep yelling, and maybe it will come back to us.”  I chuckled when I saw that cartoon. It’s true. Many couples do not remember what they are fighting about. They remember the emotion, the hurtful words, the dirty looks…but they don’t recall the reason for the argument. They might continue yelling, but they still don’t remember what started the argument. So why blow up over a topic that you may not even remember tomorrow? Avoid the hurtful words, the dirty looks, the angry comebacks…your spouse will remember them and the damage they have on your relationship is huge. Instead, listen, understand, and bless. That will give you something better to remember and will even change quite a few arguments!

Sincere apologies work miracles. It’s true. But, a sincere apology is more than mere words. A sincere apology reveals genuine remorse for what was done and how it impacted the other person. A sincere apology accepts responsibility for the actions that caused the hurt and a sincere apology reassures the other of your love for them. A sincere apology involves the “fruit of repentance” as well, actions that replace the hurtful action and assure it does not happen again. A sincere apology requires humility, responsibility, and change. It’s well worth it though. A sincere apology not only restores relationship, it strengthens relationship. Sincere apologies work miracles. (Read The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology for more.)

Time out is not just for the kids. Sometimes, couples need a “time out” to cool down. They need to stop the argument for a short time (20 minutes at least), “go to their respective corners,” and calm down. Calming down will require each one to put their mind on a topic other than the one they were fighting about. You can go for a walk, play a game, read a good story, watch a comedy, skim through magazines…whatever it takes to help you put the topic of the argument out of your mind long enough to “calm down.”  After emotions have cooled, come back together over a cup of hot cocoa and cookies (or some equivalent) to talk about the problem that caused the argument. You’ll likely find it isn’t really the big deal it had become prior to your “time out.” In a calm state, you will more easily resolve the differences or simply “agree to disagree.” It all begins with a “time out” to calm down.

One last thought. If you want to resolve an argument more quickly and calmly stop trying to figure out how your spouse has it all wrong. Instead, figure out what your spouse has right. Every perspective has some validity. Find your spouse’s valid point of view. Listen to the emotion and the priority behind your spouse’s perspective. What emotions, priorities, or concerns are driving their passion. Acknowledge their emotion. Accept their priority. Recognize areas in which you can agree with them. Then, build your solution from there. (Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day provides more tips for resolving arguments in a healthy way.)

 

*Cartoon downloaded from <https://www.art.com/products/p15063422260-sa-i6846321/david-sipress-i-can-t-remember-what-we-re-arguing-about-either-let-s-keep-yelling-an-new-yorker-cartoon.htm?RFID=765957>

Build Intimacy Before, During, & After Your Marital Conflict

All couples experience disagreements, even arguments and conflict. But, did you know you can build a more intimate relationship with your spouse before, during, and after the disagreements and conflicts?  Let me count the ways (well, at least five for before, five for during, and five for after).

BEFORE:

  1. Make daily deposits of honor and grace into your Family Bank of Honor by sharing polite words, expressions of affection, and loving touch. (Read The Tongue in the Family Bank of Honor for verbal daily deposits.)
  2. Become a student of spouse. Learn about their likes, interests, vulnerabilities, and fears.
  3. Express gratitude to your spouse every day.
  4. Tell your spouse about the traits you admire in them. Let them know what they do and say that you admire and appreciate.
  5. Show kindness to your spouse every day.

DURING:

  1. Take a breath and remember all the traits you love and adore about your spouse.
  2. Remain calm. Take a breath and maintain the use of polite words.
  3. Listen to understand. Then listen some more to make sure you understand.
  4. Do not threaten, blame, criticize, or show contempt. Instead, be brutally honest with yourself. Humbly take responsibility for any way your actions and words contribute to the argument.
  5. Seek a solution, a third alternative that can show love and the priority of your relationship. (Assume Love explains the third alternative.)

AFTER:

  1. Reaffirm your love for your spouse. Let them know how much you love them.
  2. Apologize. Chances are you did something during the disagreement that requires an apology. So, apologize.
  3. Give your spouse a big hug and a sincere kiss.
  4. Review your contribution to the argument and change your behavior accordingly.
  5. Bear the fruit of a sincere apology. (More in Stop Apologizing & Bear Fruit)

I’m sure there are many more ways to build intimacy before, during, and after an argument, but these 15 ideas will give you a start. What ideas would you add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict

Conflict can make or break a marriage. Well, not the conflict so much as how we manage the conflict can make or break a marriage. In my “exhaustive search for marital tools” I found an ancient manuscript entitled The Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict. Well…OK…I really didn’t do an exhaustive search.  The commands are not so ancient either. And, I didn’t find them; I’m just making them up. But, these “commandments” are based on the knowledge of various marital experts. So, if you want conflict to draw you and your spouse into a closer relationship, follow these ten commandments for effective conflict. 

1.      Thou shalt regard conflict as sacred. Conflict is useful in a marriage. Avoiding conflict discounts the strength of your relationship, your spouse’s love, and your spouse’s desire to know you. It hinders intimacy by hiding the truth of yourself and your feelings. Conflict regarded as sacred is managed well and reveal your commitment to your spouse and your relationship. It increases intimacy and enhances loyalty. It allows you to confirm your values as a couple. Conflict is good. When managed well, conflict is sacred. (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage shows the danger not considering conflict sacred but something to avoid.)

2.      Thou shalt commit to working through conflict to reach a resolution. The best marriages involve people who willingly turn toward one another to work through difficult emotions and circumstances. They work to resolve disagreements. Unresolved conflict simmers and boils until it explodes causing emotional damage and relational pain. (Read Finish Your Family Business for more)  Working to resolve conflict strengthens communication skills, reveals priorities, and solidifies a secure couple identity.  

3.      Thou shalt remember to cherish and honor thy spouse. It is easy to forget how much you love and cherish your spouse during conflict. So, make it a habit to recall the fun times you have shared with your spouse. Remember what you admire about your spouse. Call to mind all your spouse has done to support you, nurture your marriage, and build your home. Keep in mind that your spouse can have a valid perspective, even when they disagree with you. Your spouse is not the enemy. Your spouse is the one you love, the one you cherish, the one you honor above all others.

4.      Thou shalt soothe thyself and thy spouse. Do not let your emotions run away with you during a conflict. Instead, soothe yourself. Breath. If you feel yourself escalating, intentionally take a breath and do something to remember and express your love for your spouse. Inject an “inside joke” into the conversation. Admit your fears. Reaffirm that you love your spouse even when you disagree. Verbally confirm your desire to understand what your spouse is saying. Make what John Gottmann calls “repair statements” to keep the emotion of the conflict in check. (Arguing with Your Spouse will help you learn other ways to soothe.)

5.      Thou shalt remember thy spouse’s vulnerabilities and avoid “pushing buttons.” In other words, treat your spouse with respect, especially during a disagreement. You may even treat them with extra kindness during conflict, with kid-gloves so to speak, to avoid “pushing those buttons.” Avoid name-calling. Avoid sweeping accusations. Avoid blame. Be polite. Show respect. 

6.      Thou shalt listen twice as much as thou speak. You know the old saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk.”  The wisdom of this saying is especially true during marital conflict. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen to connect. 

7.      Thou shalt avoid the kitchen sink. Stick to one topic, the topic of the conflict. Do not throw in the kitchen sink; stick to one topic at a time. If you find yourself bringing up other issues or past hurts, stop for a moment and refocus on the issue at hand. Commit to resolving one issue at a time. (Read Avoid 5 Practices to Have a Successful Family Conflict for more on Kitchen Sinking & 4 other patterns detrimental to healthy conflict.)

8.      Thou shalt keep short accounts. Once a conflict has ended, do not harbor it in your mind. 

9.      Thou shalt take responsibility for thine own contribution to the conflict and thine own actions during the conflict. Think about your contribution to the conflict. Think about the emotions aroused during the conflict. What made the topic or the conflict so important to you? Did you feel frightened of the distance from your spouse created by the conflict? Were you reminded of incidents from your childhood that increased your anxiety or fear or anger?  How might you communicate these emotions to your spouse in a calm way? Also, what did you do to escalate the conflict? For what do you need to apologize? How will you make amends?

10.   Thou shalt reaffirm thy love and commitment. When the conflict has ended, whether you have reached an agreement or not, reaffirm your love and commitment to your spouse. Give your spouse a hug and a kiss. Offer them a sincere compliment. Tell them you love them and are committed to a lifetime with them.

Customer Service in a Marital Dispute

I’ve seen it happen several times. I’ve heard friends talk about it even more. I’ve even experienced it myself. You probably have too.  You order you’re food at a restaurant and when it finally comes to the table it is cold or maybe even the wrong order. So, you call on the wait staff to correct the problem.  Now one of two things can happen.

Option One: The wait staff becomes defensive. They try to make you understand what happened and explain it was not their fault. They sound like they’re arguing with you. They may even blame you for the mishap. You just get more and more frustrated. Even if they fix your food you leave the restaurant angry, determined to never do business with them again. That’s one option.

Option Two: The wait staff listens. They calmly hear your concern. They may even ask a few questions to clarify. They seem to show genuine concern, apologize, and do their best to remedy the problem. This time you leave feeling good even if the food wasn’t the best you’ve had. At least they listened. They understood my concern. They empathized with my frustration. They are good people and I enjoy doing business with them.

These same two options exist in our marriages. When disagreements and conflicts arise we can follow option one or option two. The option we choose will impact our relationship satisfaction. In fact, a group of researchers explored this very idea in a series of seven studies published in 2016 (See 3 Steps to Calm Your Romantic Partner When You Are Arguing for more). The results of all seven studies demonstrated that couples had greater relationship satisfaction when both partners felt understood. Even more, participants reported greater relationship satisfaction in spite of disagreement when they felt understood by their partner. They felt more like a team. They believed their partner was invested in the relationship and that the problem could be resolved more easily. They even felt closer after the disagreement than before the disagreement! Sounds like a great result.  So, how can you assure your spouse feels understood?

  1. Listen. Listen to their words to understand what they say. Look at them so they know you are listening. Listen to their body language to see if there might be more to what they are saying. Listen to their emotions to discover the deeper meaning behind what they’re saying. Listen wholeheartedly. Listen intently. Listen.
  2. Ask questions to better understand and clarify what they are saying. No matter how intently you listen you might misunderstand something. So, ask some questions. Repeat what you believe they are saying and ask if that is correct. If not, listen some more.
  3. Look for areas in which you can change and compromise based on your partner’s concerns. In other words, let their words influence you. Let your partner’s needs and wishes influence your actions. Compromise.
  4. And, did I say…LISTEN.

Responding to disagreements in this manner will determine whether you and your partner walk away from the disagreement satisfied or frustrated, feeling good or feeling bad, happy or upset, determined to enjoy more time together or questioning your relationship. I know which one I want, do you?

One Simple Question to Stop the Marital Spat

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? I mean, asking one question to stop a spat with my spouse? How could it be true? But, according to the research, it is true. Amazingly, you don’t even ask this question of your spouse. You ask it of yourself!  And, according to research completed in 2016, it changed the whole conflict (Read more in http://www.spring.org.uk/2017/11/question-improve-relationship.php?omhide=true.) The person who asked this question became more forgiving. They interpreted their relationship in a more positive light. They gained greater insight into the cause of the conflict. All of this reduced the heat of the argument and led to a quicker, more amicable resolution!

Now, want to know the question? Here it is. Ask yourself, “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” That’s it. One simple future oriented question. “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” Repeat that question to yourself. Embed it in the synapses of your brain. Then, the next time you find yourself in a spat with your spouse, dredge it up from the recesses of your mind and ask, “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” It might just change everything!

It Ends Like It Begins…The Big BUT

Do you have a complaint about your spouse? Are the kids driving you crazy? Do you ever feel the need to talk with a family member about his or her irritating behavior, hurtful 馬鹿にするビジネスマンwords, or lack of consideration? Great idea; do it! Talking leads to resolution and a stronger relationship; BUT (and this is a BIG BUT) remember…how you begin the conversation is probably how the conversation will end. In fact, family researcher John Gottman, PHD, suggests that the first three minutes of a conversation not only indicate how the conversation will end but impacts the health of your long-term marriage, even predicting who will be married in six years times (Read Predicting Divorce From the First Three Minutes of Conflict Discussion for more). Scripture refers to this principle as reaping what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9). It’s true in our family conversations:

  • If we sow blame at the start the conversation, we will reap defensiveness.
  • If we sow accusations at the start the conversation, we will reap more counter-accusations.
  • If we sow verbal attacks at the start the conversation, we will reap verbal attacks in return.
  • If we sow judgments at the start of the conversation, we will reap “well you…” and more negative comments. (“I’m not a puppet, you’re the puppet.”)

On the other hand…

  • If we sow an acknowledgement of positive actions done in the past, we reap gratitude and more positive acknowledgements.
  • If we sow recognition of positive intent, we reap thoughtful discussion about ways to act on that intent.
  • If we sow politeness at the start of the conversation, we will reap politeness in return.
  • If we sow appreciation at the start of the conversation, we will reap open ears and further appreciation.
  • If we sow positive solutions in the conversation, we will reap cooperation and mutual problem solving.
  • If we sow an acknowledgement of our personal responsibility in the situation causing stress, we will more likely reap an acknowledgement from the other person of their responsibility as well.

The fact is: we reap what we sow, even in family conversations. So, if you have a difficult subject you need to discuss with your spouse, parent, or child, take a deep breath and think. Think about the best way to start the conversation with grace, gentleness, acceptance of personal responsibility, and acknowledgement of love. After all, the conversation will end as it begins. The family you reap will grow from the seeds you sow.

Keep Your Marriage Great with this 7-Minute Exercise

Research from Northwestern University (Read the research here) suggests engaging in a simple 7-minute exercise following conflict can help couples “keep that loving feeling” alive. Pointing fingers at each otherIn this two-year study, couples who completed three-seven minute writing exercises in the second year of the study were less distressed by disagreements and maintained a higher level of marital satisfaction than those who did not do the exercise. Think about it. A simple seven-minute exercise helped couples stop ruminating about the conflict, reduce conflict related stress, maintain a high level of marital satisfaction, and preserve marital quality. I don’t know about you, but taking 21 minutes a year to keep the quality of my marriage high and the stress in my marriage low sounds like a great investment! So, if you want to keep your marriage strong, do this simple 7-minute exercise.

  1. Think about and write a brief summary of a specific disagreement you had with your spouse. Write this summary from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved (you, your spouse, and your family). How might this person think about the disagreement? How might he or she find the good that could come from it?
  2. Almost everybody finds it challenging to keep this third-party perspective at all times. In your relationship with your spouse, what obstacles do you face in trying to take this third-party perspective, especially when you’re having a disagreement with your partner? Write down the obstacles.
  3. Despite the obstacles to taking a third-party perspective, people can still successfully do it. Over the next week, please do your best to take this third-party perspective during interactions with your partner, especially during disagreements. How might you be most successful in taking this perspective in your interactions with your partner over the next week? How might taking this perspective help you make the best of disagreements in your relationship? Write down your ideas.

In the Northwestern study, couples only completed this exercise three times in one year and found it helpful. I would suggest doing it more often so you can make it a mental habit. After all, it only takes 7-minutes. Why not complete this simple 7-minute exercise two times per month? That’s 14-minutes a month to preserve the quality of your marriage. By the way, quality in your marriage translates into greater happiness, more satisfying interactions, and a higher quality of sexual intimacy. 14-minutes a month can help with all that? Come one! That’s an investment well worth the time!

Start Your Children’s Day with a Memory Boost

Christmas break will soon be over and our children will soon be returning to school for a new semester. How can we help them have the best day in school? Is there a way to boost their memory and increase decision-making abilities? If so, doing so could benefit their academic happy brother and sister laughing isolated on the whiteachievement and social interactions. And, a recent study suggests a possibility to actually do this (click here for PsyBlog review)! Although this study looked specifically at older adults, the review notes several studies suggest the same is true for young adults and common sense tells us it is true for children and youth. What boosts memory and decision-making abilities? Surprisingly, it is nothing extravagant or complex. In order to increase memory and positive decision-making ability in our children before school is to enhance their positive mood. Sounds simple; but, if you have kids, you know how complex it actually is to enhance a positive mood in the morning for children and teens.  How can you enhance a positive mood in your children? Here are a few ideas:

  • Prepare the night before. Set out clothes. Pack lunches. Put homework in the backpack. Do as much as you can the night before to eliminate the morning rush.
  • Do not discuss emotionally loaded topics in the morning before school. Save the potentially conflictual issues for another time and place. And, when you do have the hard discussions, don’t lecture.
  • Enjoy a healthy breakfast. A good meal helps increase positive moods. Talk with your children about the foods they prefer for breakfast and have those foods available.
  • Be aware of your children’s sensitivities. Some children like quieter mornings. Some children are irritated by bright lights in the morning. Be aware of these sensitivities and set up the environment accordingly. If necessary, dim the lights and turn down the radio. These simple steps may help produce a positive mood which can boost memory and decision-making at school.
  • Get up early enough that your children do not have to rush. Just 15-minutes earlier can provide a buffer of time to reduce stress and enhance positive mood.

Helping to enhance positive mood not only helps prepare for a positive school experience, but may help in those difficult discussions outside of school. When you need to discuss difficult topics with your children, increasing their positive mood may enhance that discussion. Increasing a positive mood in your children before such a discussion may help them make better decisions and remember the decision afterwards. So, tell a joke. Share a story. Sit down for a snack. Enjoy an activity together during the discussion. Whatever will increase their positive mood may also help the conversation go better and the outcome more enjoyable.

Step Back Momma Bear

You see your child and another child fighting over a toy. What’s a parent to do?

Your teen daughter comes home talking about an altercation with one of her friends. Should you step in and mediate?

Your son starts off playing with another boy but you see it slowly escalate into aggressive wrestling and even some fighting. Does the parent need to intervene to stop the fighting?

 

Does your “Mamma Bear” or “Papa Wolf” jump up to protect your child in the scenarios brown bear - femaleabove? I can feel my protective tendency rising up. But, let me suggest that sometimes the best approach to such situations involves “nonintervention.” That’s right. Nonintervention is an effective tool to use in parenting. Of course a parent must practice wisdom when using nonintervention. Specifically:

  • A parent needs to know his children well enough to anticipate when and where a conflict may get out of control or become dangerous. We don’t want any child to get hurt. So, plan to step in if you see the potential for someone to get hurt.
  • A parent must remain observant of his children and any conflict that arises so he can assess if and when he does need to step in to mediate. Times will arise when a parent will need to step in to mediate, teach, and facilitate a resolution.
  • A parent also needs to focus on teaching the importance of relationship and the corresponding respect for others. Our children learn this in our daily interactions and conversations with them. They learn it by observing our actions and listening to how we talk to others. When they see us valuing relationships and showing respect to others, they will more likely do the same.
  • A parent must model healthy anger management and conflict resolution skills in relation to their spouse, friends, and children. Once again, children learn the most by watching how we act and what we say in relation to them and others.

 

Keep those four caveats in mind and nonintervention will prove itself a very effective parenting tool. As children work out their own disagreements and conflicts, they will learn how to manage contentious relationships. They will gain the strength to handle quarrels graciously. They will increase their ability to endure in healthy relationships, even in the midst of inevitable conflict. Learning to resolve differences independently will allow children to learn the art of compromise, to seek the greater good of community, and to respect one another in spite of transitory antagonism. Resolving conflict independent of adult intervention teaches our children that relationships can grow stronger through times of strife and disagreement. They will discover that community brings pleasure and pain. Perhaps more important, they will learn that pain, like pleasure, can produce intimacy when managed properly. So, take a step back Momma Bear. Slow down Papa Wolf. Give your kids a little time and space to work things out on their own. You might be pleasantly surprised with their creative resolution and their growing maturity!

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