Couple Conflict: Attitude is Everything! | Articles | Blog | Better Marriages | Educating Couples - Building Relationships

Couple Conflict: Attitude is Everything!

by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD

Listen to Kathy talk about the difficulty she and her husband Ken have dealing with conflict:

“Too often, our disagreements end badly. We get frustrated with each other, and our anger overshadows the issue at hand. Our discussions deteriorate into accusations and put-downs. One of us usually walks away mad.  I’d love to know how to get past this so we can actually solve our problems as they come and feel closer to one another when it’s all said and done.”

Can you relate? If so, you and your partner might benefit from an attitude check. Consider these simple steps and see if they don’t help you to get a handle on couple conflict.

Attitude Check

  1. Check your attitude toward yourself. Remind yourself that your concerns and interests matter and that it doesn’t help to bottle them up until they feel overwhelming. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and wants related to the issue, whatever it is. Make a commitment to share them with your partner at the first reasonable opportunity.
  2. Check your attitude toward your partner. Remind yourself that your partner’s concerns and interests matter too. This will help you to listen for understanding when they share their thoughts, feelings, and wants related to the issue and when they respond to you.
  3. Check your egos. Remember that each of you has a point of view, not a corner on the truth. Open yourself to your partner’s perspective, allowing for the possibility that your partner has an angle on the issue you hadn’t thought of. Acknowledge and summarize your partner’s point of view so that they know you’re taking them seriously.
  4.  Check your words. Make a commitment to speak for self. Use self-disclosing “I” statements rather than accusing “You” statements. Eliminate attack statements and name-calling from your vocabulary.
  5. Check your goals. What’s more important to you, that you win or that your relationship wins? In a couple relationship, if one wins and the other loses, both actually lose. Getting your way doesn’t work if it leaves your partner unhappy. Look for solutions that take both of you seriously.

Attitude Exercise

Here’s a simple exercise to help you put these suggestions into practice the next time you have an unresolved issue to discuss. Get three chairs and situate them a couple of feet from each other in a triangle, facing each other. Have your partner choose one of the chairs; choose one for yourself; then take your seats.

Look at the empty chair together and agree that the empty chair will represent the issue you’re going to discuss. It will be the problem, which means that your partner is not the problem; your partner is your collaborator. You will be working as a team to understand and solve the problem together.

Seated side by side as a team, agree on the issue represented by the chair, and then discuss the issue, taking turns to offer your perspectives. Make sure you summarize your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and wants to their satisfaction (the goal is understanding at this point, not agreement).

After both of you feel fully understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Agree on the solution that seems best.

Then, celebrate! Working as allies rather than combatants, you have faced a problem and solved it—together. Enjoy the moment and let it serve as a model for dealing with other issues as they arise.

More Reading: Rules for Fair Fighting