What Do We Know About Conflict?

 By Greg and Priscilla Hunt

Communication skills and conflict resolution skills go hand in hand – they’re two peas in a pod. Like the song Love and Marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage!

What do we Know about Conflict?

• Conflict is natural and inevitable. If you’re in relationship with another human being, there will be conflict. When we accept this fact, we remove the panic that can sometimes ensue. We no longer have to jump to the conclusion that if we experience conflict in our relationship, there is something wrong with the relationship.
• The presence of conflict doesn’t mean the absence of love. It’s not either/or.
• If handled well, conflict can actually lead to greater understanding and intimacy – it can bring us closer together.
• Any issue, no matter how small, can result in conflict. Conflict isn’t reserved for the big issues.
• Conflict resolution skills can be used to manage any conflict, the big ones as well as the small ones.
• Conflict resolution skills can be learned. We don’t learn them by osmosis – we learn them through classes, books, and on-the-job training. The more we practice these skills, the more natural they become.

Rules for Fighting Fair (adapted from John A. Larsen)

• Agree on a time and place to discuss. . . don’t jump into conflict before both are ready, and don’t put off conflict indefinitely.
• Speak for self . . . don’t put words in your partner’s mouth.
• Use self-disclosing “I” statements . . . don’t make accusing “You” statements. Use this simple formula:
I feel _____________________________ (state your feeling)
when you _________________________ (describe the action or behavior)
because ___________________________ (say why the action connects to your feeling)
• Deal directly with your partner . . . don’t involve a biased third party (ie: family or friends who will take your side).
• Take responsibility for your feelings and actions . . . don’t blame your partner or others for what you feel or do.
• Attack the problem . . . not the person.
• Take your partner’s point of view seriously [or seek to understand your partner’s point of view—their thoughts, feelings, and wants] . . . don’t assume you have a corner on the truth.
• Share your own thoughts, feelings, and wants . . . don’t withhold important information.
• Put your anger into words . . . don’t resort to force, intimidation, or violence.
• Focus on the problem at hand . . . don’t bring up the past or bundle together a collection of issues.
• Deal directly with your partner . . . don’t involve a biased third party.
• Know when to seek counseling.

Using a Time Out• When the conflict is escalating and you see that some of the rules for fighting fair are not being followed, agree to take a 15-30 minute time out. Signs you need a time out:  1) one or both of you are swearing, 2) one or both of you are throwing things and slamming doors, 3) one or both of you are physically intimidating the other one (physical abuse is never acceptable!)
• Use the time out as an opportunity to explore what’s going on for you personally. Ask yourself these questions: Why am I upset? What emotions do I feel? What do I want (for me, for my partner, for our relationship)?
• Come back together after the agreed-upon time and attempt to resolve the conflict. Often, after a break to cool down and explore what’s going on for you, you have greater understanding to bring to the table. Often the conflict will have become easier to resolve.

In our relationship, it’s inevitable that we’ll experience conflict. It’s what we do with it that’s important. Hang in there with each other through thick and thin!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing.

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