We’ve all heard over and over again that conflict is inevitable in a relationship. The common view is that we need to confront this conflict and learn to manage it. We believe that the essence of this myth is a fallacious assumption. While well intentioned, this attitude often leads to unnecessary separation and alienation between couples. It perpetuates the view that partners are separate and on different sides. It amplifies differences such as gender and personality and, rather than turning them into potentially positive things, presents those differences as solid obstacles to be overcome.
There’s a simple and surprisingly powerful approach that can transform a couple’s experience of problem-solving and decision-making.
Effectively, each of you is looking for an experience of reciprocity, not separation. This must remain at the top of your mind at all times.
This can be difficult to achieve in practice. We are used to conflict being our normal response, but the pattern can be changed by making a different choice. Create a basic format (or ritual, if you will) that you will use for problem solving and decision making. Start by speaking out loud that you are on the same page and looking for a solution together. Hold hands or be in physical contact, and each of you declares that you intend to reach a place of mutual agreement.
Anytime you feel like losing touch with your partner and becoming defensive or argumentative, remember you are here together and return to the emotional connection you made a commitment to when you started . Believe that an outcome is possible even if you can’t see it yet, and that you both want to achieve it together. Reaffirm to your partner that you want to come to a solution or decision together that is good for both of you.
The way forward is for each person to take turns stating what they want. Come from the “we” rather than the “you” (the finger pointing to you) in both thinking and choice of language. “How can we find a solution to this problem?” “What is the best decision for us?” The change in language from “you” to “we” has a powerful effect in itself. It eliminates blame and attacks and avoids putting the other on the defensive. No decision or solution works unless it is mutual.
Don’t fall off the wagon! If your partner does this, don’t join him or her; Instead, help them back by continuing to work towards a common solution. This is the point at which you can make a conscious decision to act differently. A small change will evoke a different reaction, and the entire discussion can take a different path. By refusing to let conflict come in, even if it comes from your partner, your response can change the entire tenor of the exchange.
Above all, it’s important to remember that this is not a hard, hard fight. This is a dance you do together. Make it easy and happy.
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