Tag Archive for resolving conflict

Science Proves “Noodle Dance” Effective

When my children were younger, one of my favorite cartoons to watch with them was “PB&J Otter.” Actually, I liked one part of the cartoon in particular. Each episode led to a moment in which the main characters didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, one would suggest they “do the noodle dance.” Peanut, Jelly, and Baby Butter would start to dance as lyrics sang in the background:

“Noodle, use your noodle; noodle, do the noodle dance… Solve a problem, it’s no strain, use your noodle, that’s your brain…There’s an answer you can find, use your noodle, that’s your mind… In a bind, just use your mind, use your noodle.”

As they danced, something happened. They moved from the “paralysis of analysis” to the “I got it” moment.  In other words, they discovered a solution to the problem.  Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But research supports the idea that movement helps us “get unstuck” and “frees up” our thinking. When we “move” with another person, it helps us get “in-sync” with them and increases our openness and cooperation. In other words, the “Noodle Dance Principle” could come in handy in your home! No, I’m not saying you have to do the noodle dance itself…although you can if you want, and it is kind of fun. I’m simply suggesting you utilize the “Noodle Dance Principle” when problems or disagreements arise in your home. Specifically, when you get stuck on a problem or disagreement:

  1. Get up and move. Go for a walk alone and think. This can help you calm down and think more clearly. Or go for a walk together as you discuss the issue at hand. Research suggests that moving increases motivation and the likelihood of resolving conflict. It frees up your thoughts and feelings, increasing the probability of finding a solution or of reaching a compromise.  Don’t want to walk? Try going on a bike ride. Still too much? Pull up a couple of rocking chairs and rock while you talk. Or sit on a swing and swing as you put your heads together to find an answer. Find a seesaw and take turns talking as you go up and down the issues that need resolved.  Whatever you do, get up and move. As noted earlier, moving enhances cooperation and gets us in-sync with those we move with. It also makes people more willing to make personal sacrifices that benefit the group. Get up and move.
  2. Physically map out the problem or disagreement. Grab a whiteboard or some paper and sketch out your main points. Not only does this get you moving, it also makes an abstract issue visible. You can draw arrows connecting areas of agreement and highlighting common priorities.  You might even move these areas of agreement and common priority to a common area on the whiteboard. Then you can co-create a solution incorporating areas of agreement and consideration for areas of difference.

These two suggestions can help you get moving toward a solution when family problems arise…or moving toward a resolution when you find yourself in a heated disagreement. So go ahead. When a problem or disagreement arises in your house, do the noodle dance…at least get up and get moving. 

Want a Marriage with Great Sex?

Want a marriage with great sex? Dumb question…every married person does, right? And, truth be told, several factors contribute to a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. But a study published in January, 2021, reveals two of the important factors for a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. This study utilized data collected from 7,114 heterosexual couples across the United States. Both husbands and wives completed various surveys to determine how forgiving they were toward their spouse, the quality of their conflict resolution, and their level of sexual satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the higher the quality of conflict resolution, the greater the level of reported sexual satisfaction for both the husbands and wives. It seems that “make up sex” really is good when conflict is resolved well.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, was only related to greater sexual satisfaction for husbands, not wives. In other words, husbands with a greater willingness to forgive (a “higher level of forgiveness”) reported greater sexual satisfaction. To those of you who are husbands, pride interferes with forgiveness. Take the humble road and forgive your wife when the time arises…and it will. After all, humility is hot in a marriage.

Here’s the takeaway. If you want to have greater sexual satisfaction in your marriage, learn to resolve your marital conflicts well; and husbands, learn to forgive. If you struggle with resolving conflicting in your marriage, here are some helps to get you started:

And if you’re not sure about the whole forgiveness thing, start here:

Give Your Spouse a Break

Did you ever notice how we often give our friends a break when they do something that irritates us? They show up late for our coffee date…”probably caught in traffic” or “had trouble getting the kids off to school.” They didn’t bring us the recipe we had asked for… “oh well, I’ll get it next time” or “they can email it to me.” They look at you with what might be anger…”better ask what’s going on, maybe their upset about something.”  In each situation, we offer understanding. We give the benefit of the doubt. We cut them some slack.

But, when our spouse does the exact same things, we jump to a conclusion, automatically assuming the worst, and launch into an attack. They show up late for dinner…”they have no consideration for me and my time!” They forget to complete a task we had asked them to do…”they never listen to me, and I end up doing all the work around here.” They have a look that might be angry…”They better not be angry at me. They have no reason to be angry with me.”

Why is that? Why do we give our friends, and even strangers, the benefit of the doubt but assume the worst about our spouse? Perhaps we need to take the time to give our spouse the benefit of the doubt…and here are five steps to help.

  1. Remember their past actions. Chances are that your spouse thinks of you often. They do things for you because they love you. They most likely respond to your requests the majority of the time. Take time to remember their positive actions from the past. Recall those times you experienced their love for you in their words and actions. Recall positive times together. Recall things they have done just for you, things they did because they know you liked to do it.
  2. Consider alternative explanations for the behavior you currently find irritating. The first explanation may be one that causes irritation. Take time to consider if there are other explanations, possible extenuating circumstances, or even good reasons for their current behavior or the current situation.
  3. Talk to them about the behavior but start the conversation gently. Use a polite tone and avoid blame, like you would with your friends. Remember, your conversation will end like it begins. So, use an “I-statement” to objectively describe the behavior you observe. “I notice that….” “I get a little upset when people….” Don’t evaluate or judge, simply describe. Then say what you would hope for or want more of. Don’t expect them to read your mind. Simply state what you desire in a clear, polite, concise manner.
  4. Appreciate your spouse verbally. Even when you express your misgivings, take time to state things you appreciate about your spouse as well.
  5. When you’re on the receiving end of this discussion, remember to take responsibility. Getting defensive when your spouse talks about something bothering them will increase the chances of them assuming the worst. When we take responsibility for our actions, our spouses can give us the benefit of the doubt knowing we are motivated to improving our marriage. (Learn more in Don’t Let Defensiveness Ruin Your Marriage, Take the Antidote.)

In a healthy marriage, both spouses assume the best about the other. They give one another the benefit of the doubt. They cut one another some slack. It’s a grace we share with one another. It’s a way to honor one another. And it lays the groundwork to celebrate with one another…so give your spouse a break.

The Superpower of a Pronoun

When it comes to resolving marital conflicts, pronouns have superpower. At least that’s what a 2009 study published in Psychology and Aging found. In this study, 154 couples engaged in three 15-minute conversations: one conversation focused on the events they experienced during the day, one focused on a topic of marital conflict, and one focused on a pleasant topic. The main focus of the study was the 15-minute conversation using a topic of marital conflict and what personal pronouns the couple used most often during that conversation. The researchers categorized pronouns into pronouns of togetherness (like “we,” “our,” and “us”) and pronouns of separateness (like “I”, “me,” and “your”).  The results? Pronouns emphasizing “togetherness” had a superpower in the conflict conversation. Specifically, couples who used pronouns like “we” “our”, and “us” showed less stress and behaved more positively toward one another than those using “separateness” pronouns. And those using “separateness” pronouns reported being less happy in their marriages.

Of course, thinking in terms of “togetherness” is not the norm in our individualistic society, a society which focuses on “me” and “mine.”  So, it may take a little work to set your mind on the “we” of your marriage rather than the “I” of yourself.  (You can learn how in The Blessing of the Royal We.) As you learn to think in terms of “togetherness, using especially in the midst of conflict, you will experience less stress in your marriage and a better marital relationship.  As a co-author of this study said,” Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me.’”

The Attitude Needed for Communication in Marriage

Communication is crucial to a healthy marriage. Everyone knows that, right? We teach couples to communicate—to listen well and take turns explaining their point of view when a conflict arises. All well and good…until you have a real disagreement and give in to the temptation of making your goal to convince your spouse of the superiority of your point of view. With that goal in mind, you practice repeating what your spouse says so they know you “understand” their point of view (at least well enough to blow it out of the water). You “wait” (however impatiently) for your turn to talk. You maintain eye contact and stay calm (most likely with an air of condescension). You word your point of view in a way that your spouse will understand (or are they just stupid?). But something is missing. You never reach resolution. You both grow more frustrated and even angry. Why is it not working? Because you started with the wrong goal and, as a result, you are missing at least three important ingredients.

  1. Humility. Effective communication is undergirded by humble listening. Good listeners humble themselves by setting aside their own agendas and listening to their spouse with the sole purpose of understanding their point of view. They do not have to prove the superiority of their own opinion. They do not listen for flaws in their spouse’s reasoning or ammunition to bolster their own argument. They listen to understand. They listen until they can appreciate their spouse’s perspective based on their knowledge and perception. In humility they acknowledge the sense of their spouse’s perspective. Humility is an essential ingredient for effective communication in marriage.
  2. Respect. Effective communication is premised upon mutual respect. Both spouses respectfully believe the other has a valid viewpoint. They trust their spouse’s intelligence and ability to develop and grow. They respect their spouse’s knowledge and intelligence. They model that respect by listening intently, speaking politely, and disagreeing with love.
  3. Curiosity. Effective communication assumes curiosity. To learn demands curiosity. To learn about your spouse’s perspectives and ideas starts with being curious. Remember, communication is an opportunity to “grow” something new—a new relationship, a new level of intimacy, a new knowledge. “Growing” something new assumes a curiosity about what will grow from this interaction, a curiosity that nurtures the growth of something new. Effective communication means each spouse is more invested in learning about their spouse than in making themselves known. They are more curious to know their spouse than they are demanding to be known.

If you want a really healthy marriage, add these three ingredients into your life and communication. Get curious about your spouse and humbly listen to learn more about them…and do it respectfully. When you do, you’ll discover a greater goal of communication as well. The goal is not to pass on information or convince someone of “my” ideas. The goal is to connect and grow together.

Two Questions Every Couple Silently Asks

Every couple asks at least two questions of one another. The way in which we answer these two questions will either create a happy, lifetime marriage or a doomed marriage. Here’s the trick though. We ask these questions without ever saying the words. They are silently implied through our actions, interactions, and other questions.

The first question is: “Can I trust you?”

  • When I ask you to do something, can I trust you to work on it?
  • When your friends try to influence you to do something, can I trust you to accept my influence above the influence of your friends?
  • Can I trust you to keep me as a priority above your friends?
  • When you’re upset with me, can I trust you to still love me?
  • I know you love your family, but can I trust you to make me the first priority in your life?
  • When we are apart, can I trust you to remain faithful? 

The second question is very similar: “Are you there for me?”

  • When I am sad or troubled, are you there for me?
  • When I need help around the house, are you there for me?
  • When I need someone to listen, are you there for me?
  • When I want to just have fun with someone I love, are you there for me?
  • When I need to talk, are you there for me?
  • Are you there for me emotionally? Physically? Mentally?

The next time you find yourself in an argument with your spouse because the dishwasher was not unloaded, you need to answer your spouse’s unspoken question: “Are you there for me? Will you do your part to help keep our home.”

When you find yourself in a marital a battle over how much time you spend with your friends, you need to answer your spouse’s unspoken question: “Can I trust you? Or do I need to worry about you leaving me for your friends when I need you most?”

When time watching television, playing video games, or exercising becomes a source of conflict, answer the question: “Are you there for me? Or will the attention you give something else take you away from me?”

If you spouse seems to get upset and argue with you every time you talk about a coworker, you might want to answer the unspoken question: “Can I trust you? Do you talk about me with the same enthusiasm and adoration?” The list goes on, but you get the idea. “Can I trust you? Are you there for me?” Make sure the answer is clear.

How an Argument Can Lead to Longer Life & Deeper Intimacy

It’s true. Stress is a killer. Research has found that chronic stress increases depression and anxiety, impacting our mental health. It also impacts physical health, contributing to heart disease, higher cholesterol, a weaker immune system, and gastrointestinal issues.

You know what creates a lot of stress for many people (including me)? Arguments. An Oregon State University study published in 2021 examined the impact of arguments and avoided arguments on a person’s negative emotions. Utilizing data obtained through an in-depth survey of over 2,000 people, they found that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their argumentative encounter resolved reported about half as much negative emotion as those who felt the encounter unresolved. Even more, on the day after the argument, those who felt the incident was resolved felt no prolonged negative emotion related to the disagreement.

In other words, resolve the argument and the stress goes away. Resolve the argument before the sun goes down and have no stress related to it the next day.

I don’t know about you, but I have arguments with my spouse now and again. I can also experience disagreements with my daughters. Left unresolved, I ruminate. Stress continues to push cortisol (stress hormones) through my veins. I don’t sleep well. I’m restless. And the next day I’m tired, still feeling the stress of yesterday’s disagreement, and even feeling a little grumpy.

Better to avoid all that and do the work of resolving the argument and any residual anger that accompanies it. This doesn’t mean you have to reach an agreement. It means you have to resolve your anger. How? Start by taking a break and during that break…

  1. Take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you look around the room. Intentionally recognize where you are, what you see, what you hear, what positive memories you have in this place.
  2. Think of the good times you have had with the family member with whom you are having an argument. They are much more than this point of disagreement or moment of anger. Remember what you admire and appreciate about them. Recall times of joy and celebration together.
  3. Agree to meet together to understand one another better after everyone has calmed down. Notice, you are not going to meet to resolve the disagreement, although this is often a byproduct of meeting. Instead, you are going to meet to understand one another better. But first you want all the parties to become calm. When we are upset, we often don’t think rationally. Our fight or flight system gets activated and we only think of survival. Wait until you are calm and your rational, loving brain is back on board. Then you can discuss the disagreement. And, with a calm, clear mind, you can approach the discussion with the intent of understanding your family member’s perspective. The goal is not to prove your point or make them understand you, but for you to intentionally seek to understand their perspective.
  4. Share affection. A hug, a kiss, an “I respect you” or an “I love you” will go a long way in resolving anger among loved ones. Even if you still feel a little agitated…or even a lot agitated…give your family member a genuine hug. After all, deep down you love them in spite of any disagreement. As you share affection, feel the anger dissipate.

These 4 steps take effort. But the effort pays great dividends. Stress is reduced. Anger is resolved. You’ll likely find that the disagreement is even resolved or becomes less significant. Your physical health is nurtured. But best of all, intimacy with your family member deepens. Like I said, it takes effort, but the reward is fabulous.

Compromise: My Way or The Highway?

If you’re married, you have probably had this experience. You know…the one that occurs when you want one thing and your spouse wants another. You disagree on the best course of action, but you need to reach an agreement. And reaching an agreement will require compromise. And so, the discussion (or should I say debate?) begins. You and your spouse state your cases. You persuade. You list off the benefits of your side.

Underlying the whole discussion, however, is a small, nagging fear that if I stand firm, you might consider me selfish and become resentful. But, if I give in to meet your needs or comply with your ideas, you might take advantage of my kindness… and I will grow to resent. Plus, the whole issue of fairness flows like a riptide under these fears, threatening to pull us into frustration and anger. All in all, our effort at compromising becomes a lesson in political antagonism. But (and this is a big but) it does not have to be this way.

The whole tone of compromise can change when we shift our paradigm and stop thinking in terms of my needs and desires versus your needs and desires. The tone of compromise changes when we shift to recognize that the true struggle begins within each me and within you. It is not the struggle of “me versus thee” but the struggle within myself  to honor two needs I harbor in my heart that are of equal importance:

  • One, to satisfy my personal need or desire and
  • Two, to make my spouse happy.  After all, we all want our spouses to experience happiness in their relationship to us. Our love for our spouse pushes us to grow, to think beyond our own desires and consider another person’s desires.

By recognizing this internal struggle, we become better prepared to listen, to understand, and to discover a mutually satisfying solution. In other words, compromise is an opportunity to stand up for ourselves and our spouse rather than give in or persuade.

Gottman developed an exercise to aid couples in this process–the two ovals exercise. First, draw an oval on a piece of paper. Write what you must have in order to be true to your identity within this oval. What you write will vary depending on the topic at hand. However, one value you can always write in this first oval is the desire to bring your spouse happiness.

Next, draw a second oval around the first one. In this outer oval, write things related to the topic of discussion that you are flexible about. With these two ovals complete, you can approach the conversation with a deeper sharing of priorities, a clearer understanding of issues related to each one’s identity and security, and an explicit expression and recognition of each one’s desire to make the other happy. Compromise becomes an opportunity to know one another better and to seek a way to make one another happy. Instead of “my way or the highway” undergirding the talk of compromise, “how can we make one another happy while we meet our individual needs” becomes the foundation of the discussion. Now that is a compromise we can invest in!

Your Family & the Tough Conversation

Families face tough conversations in today’s world. Whether focused on politics, your teen’s level of freedom, sexuality, or which swimsuit your children can wear, these conversations can quickly become emotionally tumultuous. Hurtful words may “slip out” and relationships can be damaged. Knowing your family’s conversational style provide a first step in making these conversations more productive.

Research on conversation styles in families has identified four categories of conversation styles in families. The styles fall along two dimensions: conversational orientation and conformity. Conversational orientation represents how much and how spontaneously families talk about multiple topics. Conformity refers to how much family members feel expected to conform to the views of one or two family members. With that in mind, let’s briefly explore each style.

  1. A laissez-faire conversation style is low in both conversational orientation and conformity. They place little value on conformity and communication. They tend to have limited conversation and share few topics. Family members can differ in opinions and each person is encouraged to make their own decisions with little input from family. As you can imagine, families using this style of conversation often lack intimate, emotional  connection. They tend to be disengaged from one another. Because of the lack of support given in decision-making, children often grow to question their ability to make decisions.
  2. A protective conversation style is high in conformity but low in conversational orientation.  Communication emphasizes obedience to parental authority and conformity. Parents see little reason for explaining the reason behind decisions and simply expect the family to conform. As a result, differences of opinion are not generally discussed. Unfortunately, positive conflict resolution and communication skills are not practiced either. So, when disagreements do naturally occur, the only way to resolve them is to conform to the authority’s decision. Once again, you can see how this limits family intimacy as well as the healthy development of self-knowledge and communication skills.
  3. A pluralistic conversational style is high in conversational orientation and low in conformity. These families have open, unrestrained conversation on a wide range of topics. Parents accept children’s opinions and decisions providing they are well supported by reason and explanation.  Conflict is addressed using positive conflict-resolution strategies and generally resolved. Family conversation is valued as is independent and autonomous thinking. This style does promote competence in communication, confidence in decision-making, and conflict resolution. However, since it is low in conformity, the family tends to be permissive, which can result in more behavioral problems. Ironically, permissiveness also tends to contribute to lower self esteem in children.
  4. Finally, a consensual conversational style is high in conversational orientation and conformity. This creates a tension between the pressure to agree and so maintain the existing hierarchy on the one hand, and open communication and exploration of ideas on the other. These families strive to balance independence and conformity, expression and understanding. Parents encourage children to voice their opinions and ideas but invest energy and time in explaining their own values, beliefs, and decisions to their children. Discussions are acceptable and encouraged but volatile conflict is generally thought of negatively. As a result, the family does model and teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. They also develop more intimacy and connectedness.  

The question to ask yourself as you move toward having the tough conversations is: which type of conversational style describes your family? How will that conversational style impact your approach to the topic? How does your style influence your goal? Is your current style the one you want to continue using or would you like to approach this topic differently?  Do you utilize the same style in relationship to your children as you do in relationship to your spouse? Will this conversational style change as your child matures? How?

Knowledge of your family’s conversational style and the answer to these questions will begin to help you successfully engage in the tough conversations with your family.

In Marital Conflict, “What” Is In Charge

When it comes to conflict with your spouse, “what” is in charge. Not who, “what.” If left to its own devices, the “what” in charge of your marital conflict will leave no “who” in charge. Let me explain.

In many marital arguments, anger and fear represent the “what” that takes charge. Anger and fear shape our reactions and our words. When anger takes charge, it may lead us to blame our spouse or our parents or our boss…anybody but ourselves. Anger may also direct us to belittle our spouse, maybe even call our spouse a few names. When anger is the “what” in charge of conflict, the result in disaster.

Fear is “what” takes charge of marital conflict even more often than anger. Fear, in fact, is often the true commanding officer of the conflict and anger merely fear’s emissary. Fear, if it does not turn to its emissary anger, will lead us to become defensive, distant, or avoidant during the marital conflict.

When anger or fear take charge of a conflict, there is no “who” in charge. Anger and fear have formed a coup and taken charge…and the results are disastrous: blaming, defending, belittling, feeling rejected, emotional distance, more anger, and more fear. The hurt caused by anger and fear puts us on guard, ever vigilant for the next slight, the next provocation. There is no security and no winner when anger and fear are the “what” in charge of your marital disagreement.

None of us want fear and anger to run our martial conflict. So, “what” do we want to take charge of our marital conflicts? Empathy. Empathy commands us to listen and intentionally work to understand. Empathy directs us to seek connection and intimacy above “winning” or “being right.” Empathy calms the fear and resolves the anger. “What”—anger, fear, or empathy—may take charge of your marital conflict, but “WHO” determines which “what” will take charge. “Who” will make that decision? You. Only you can choose how you will engage in the conflict. Only you can choose which “what” will take charge of the marital conflict—anger, fear, or empathy. You, only you, can choose your response. Be the “who” that takes charge of the “what” that shapes your response during marital conflict.

Step back. Take a breath. Choose “empathy” as the “what” to direct your conflict. You will be so glad you did. And do you know “who” else will be glad? Your spouse.

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