Turn heated conflict into cooperative decision

April 26, 2013 

Are you tired of arguing about the same thing over and over again? Arguments go in circles. Forgetting what started the argument. Instead, focusing on how you are talking to each other, once sparks start popping.

The intensity heats up with each blaming statement. It’s met with a counter-jab. You are both on the defensive or trying to prove your point. Hoping you can convince the other one to agree with you. Does this sound familiar?

We’ve all been there, experienced unresolved conflict. But for some couples, conflict plagues most of their interactions. Knowing you have a part in creating and reducing conflict can be freeing.

Conflict is Co-Created

Most conflicts don’t start as a we-problem. That is, until both spouses are focusing on getting the other to change. The conflict can be triggered when one person “leaks” on the other.

The quickest way to lower the heat on a conflict is to acknowledge your part. It definitely lowers my heart rate! Once I figure out how I may have heated up the interaction, I can begin to calm down. In that moment, I switch from blaming to being responsible for myself.

I’m not the martyr, as it’s not all my fault. Although tempting, I don’t have to convince my spouse what his part is, he either sees it or he doesn’t. The calming part is knowing both of our reactions create the conflict.

3 Steps for Taking a Conflict to Cooperation:

What else can we do besides owning our part in the conflict? When you have conflict regarding a joint decision, here are a few steps to help you through conflict to cooperation:

1. Identify Agreement – What do you agree on? Look for common goals, even if you have different ideas about how to get there.

For instance, a 30-something, married couple agree on staying out of debt. To help track their spending, Jacob and Mary decide to let each other know when either plans on spending over $200.

Jacob comes home excited, “I’m going to buy a motorcycle. I’ve always wanted one.” And Mary responds with shock and despair, “You what?!” (I’m not picking on men, women like to shop too!)

2. Identify Disagreement – What can you not bend on? Clearly share what you are not willing to do.

Mary tries to collect herself, asking “How are you going to pay for this dream bike?” Jacob responds somewhat defensively, “I notice we have a nice sum of money in savings, so I won’t have to buy it on credit. And, the owner is going to give me a great deal.” Mary quickly defines, “I’m not okay with using our family savings for a motorcycle. Do you have any other ideas?”

3. Compromise or Disagree – When do you hold the line and when are you okay with being flexible? Find a solution you can both live with.

Jacob scuffs his foot on the floor, pauses and states, “I’m willing to work a second job for a few months.” (He isn’t willing to compromise on his dream, but he is willing to be flexible by making additional money.) Mary hesitates, knowing she’ll miss having him home, but says “Go for it, and get me a helmet too.”

Not all conflicts reach a compromise this easily. Jacob could have said he was going to pay with credit. Then, Mary would have “agreed to disagree” by letting Jacob be the one to pay off the debt. If Mary can let the responsibility stay in Jacob’s lap, then they have found a solution they can both live with.

Having differences isn’t the problem; it is how you respond to the differences. Not suppressing your feelings to avoid conflict. But, by learning how we play a part in inviting the reactions we don’t want.

Marci Payne, resident of Lee’s Summit, is an Individual and Marriage Counselor in private practice:

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