In the first two parts of this blog series we began to discuss how to define the problem when it comes to conflict. Most of it was from a theoretical standpoint. During this post, I want to focus on practical steps when approaching conflict which is meant to build upon what you read in the first two posts.
As conflict begins to brew, we feel the intensity of the situation rise. More often than not, I am too quick to respond. However, I have noticed that the quick response is often the very thing that puts me in the ‘dog house’ if you know what I mean! If you really take to heart what was discussed in the first two posts, I hope you see the value in slowing down your response time. I am learning how important it is for me to first step back and define the problem, often asking some of the questions as discussed in the first two posts.
However, once you have that internal dialogue, and you have ‘efficiently defined the problem’, you are then able to respond. Hopefully, with more clarity and feeling a bit more calm. When it comes to the response, remember that you are ultimately only responsible for YOU, not your spouse.
If I have a concern with something, it is appropriate to initiate the topic and present it in a way that your spouse will ‘hear’ it. Pay attention to the types of words you choose, voice level/tone, the environment, etc. However, if you are responding to someone in the midst of conflict first focus on making sure you have appropriately heard what your spouse said. Try to get past the rant of words and the emotional fireworks and instead listen for the intent of your spouse as well as the emotion behind it.
Once both parties have had a chance to share their perspective, it is imperative that you answer the question ‘what could I have done differently?’. Remember, you are NOT responsible for what your spouse does. You are responsible for you. If you attempt to label what your spouse could have done differently (which is probably easier for you), you will come across as attacking, being defensive, and ultimately spend the night in the ‘dog house’ again. If you instead, focus on where you can improve, it opens the door for the next step in apologizing and asking for forgiveness.
After you have initiated an apology and asking forgiveness, it is important to follow up with the conflict and determine what is needed from that point, either a goal in changing personal behaviors, deciding on a path to move forward, etc. Don’t forget to follow up. Most couples forget to follow up a few days or a week after the initial conflict to see how they have done at making the suggested changes or deciding if the path chosen is still the right option or if a different path needs to be chosen. This follow up goes a long way to building trust and establishing a deeper relationship.
So I promised step by step…here it is in a nutshell:
‘How important is the issue?’ (Internal dialogue)
‘What are the core concerns for me? for my spouse?’ (Internal dialogue)
‘What can I do differently?’ (Internal dialogue)
What can WE do differently (change personal behaviors, making decisions, choosing options, etc).
I hope you notice the first part of dealing with conflict is NOT responding, rather, it is first slowing down your response time and first defining the problem at hand, then apologizing and responding. And of course, do not forget to follow up and encourage each other where you see progress and where you would like to see some additional steps taken.
- How quickly do you respond to conflict?
- Is your initial reaction in the midst of conflict one based out of care for your spouse or defending your perspective
- Practice starting with this internal dialogue while defining the problem in the conflict.