Action 17

How To: Improve My Conflict Management Skills

In all relationships, it is inevitable that some form of disagreements and conflicts will emerge. How couples and families handle and resolve such conflicts influence their abilities to become resilient, especially in the aftermath of traumatic and victimizing experiences.

How To: Handle Inevitable Conflicts with Your Partner or Spouse

  1. Do not avoid conflicts with your partner/spouse, but instead deal with the conflict constructively and cooperatively. Create a sense of trust and safety.
  2. Avoid attack-defend and demand-withdrawal modes of communicating that contribute to marital conflict and dissatisfaction. Demand by one partner can be met by withdrawal by the other partner. The “withdrawer” might change the topic, focus on some other perceived inadequacy of the “demander” as a way of avoiding the central topic or just give in. (“Sometimes, I just give in or withdraw from the conversation because I love her and I do not want to lose control and say or do something that will hurt her.”)
  3. Do not use sullen silence, withdrawal, accusatory statements to resolve or avoid conflicted issues. There is a need to recognize such communication patterns early on and catch and change them.
  4. When arguing do not bring up “ancient history.” Stay focused on the present and the immediate future, not in the past. Leave the past in the past. Identify specific things you can do differently in the present and tell your partner how you intend to change.
  5. Express your requests positively, instead of negatively. Instead of saying:
    “I do not like it when you say/do X.”
    instead “I prefer it when you say/do Y.”
    “I do not want you to do Z.”
    instead “I would like you to (greatly appreciate, be most grateful to you) for saying/doing Z.”
    Think about how you would like to be asked to do something. Craft your words carefully. Remember that words spoken in anger cannot be unspoken.
  6. Understand that happily married couples say five positive remarks for every negative remark, even when having conflicts. Couples headed for divorce use less than one (0.8) positive remarks for every negative remark.
  7. Look for the complexity of an issue. View the topic of conflict from your partner’s/spouse’s perspective. Surrender the notion that you know all the answers. Focus on “we” and not just on “me.”
  8. Develop a warning system with your partner that you are angry about something, but not quite ready to talk about it. For example, light a special candle that can be used only for this purpose. This is a signal that you need to cool down and then discuss the topic when cooler heads prevail. (“When I get emotionally flooded, it is almost impossible to have a productive conversation with my partner”). Keep in mind that hyper arousal is most strongly associated with aggressive behavior, especially when co-occurring with alcohol abuse. Keep conflicts civil and calm.
  9. If the conflict gets heated, take a time out if you feel it necessary, from the argument. Allow your emotions to subside. Then call time in.
  10. Never let the sun go down with anger still lingering within you. Anger magnifies and amplifies the negative aspects of the issue. Such “smoldering feelings” undermine relationships and blocks the development of resilience. (See Action #15, #16, and #41 for a discussion of ways to manage anger and hostility).
  11. Repair any regrettable incidents in your relationships. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict. Avoid blaming. Upon reflection, indicate what you have learned from this conflicted situation and what you intend to do specifically to improve your relationship.

Start fresh each morning.

Action 18