The Ability to Resolve Conflict Is Key to Healthy Relationships

Can we agree that everybody disagrees with somebody else at one time or another?  This is inevitable in a dualistic world, but there is a harmonious way to deal with disagreement.

There are ways to communicate which help us resolve conflict, avoid unnecessary arguments and develop harmonious relationships. Most people who use the techniques offered below report improvements, not just in their love life, but in relationships with other family members, co-workers, friends, and complete strangers. In other words, everybody!

The great conflict negotiator, Marshall Rosenberg, shared that when he taught his non-violent communication skills to young children in elementary schools that they picked up the ability to identify their feelings and share them responsibly far more quickly than did their teachers and the school administrators. Although it is generally true that young minds absorb information more easily than when we’re older and more stuck in our ways, there’s always hope if we’re willing to try. On that note, here are three proven tools for improving communication between you and your partner.

1. Self-awareness. Set aside some time to work on gaining more awareness of what’s going on inside of you when you are upset with your partner. For example, if you are frustrated that your partner has agreed to take out the garbage when it’s full, but doesn’t actually do so, you may feel fully justified in being angry. But let’s break it down. It sounds like it’s more about him keeping his word, and participating in the household chores. Underneath your anger, you may feel you can’t trust him to follow through on what he says, and that you have more than your fair share to do around the house-you may feel a lack of partnership. Gaining self-awareness about the deeper issues empowers you and facilitates better communication. Once you clarify what is going on within you, communicate constructively using “I”-talk, that is, using the word “I” and “me” rather than accusing or blaming.

For example, rather than saying, “You never take out the garbage! I’ve had it!” and angrily doing it yourself, you might say, “It would make me happy if you took out the garbage regularly without me reminding you. I could relax and trust that you’ll follow through and it’s a good feeling when you share the chores with me.” Can you feel the difference in the emotional tone?

2. Acknowledgment. It would go a long way at this point if your partner is willing to acknowledge what you have said. This means he remains open, not defensive, and says something simple, like, “I know I haven’t been consistent taking out the garbage.” When we acknowledge what our partner said without defending, this usually has a soothing effect on the one who is upset. It is also empowering to the one “in the wrong” because s/he finds there are ways to communicate without escalating the situation. Neuro-linguistic programming, a powerful approach to interpersonal communication, found that using the same words as the other person help him/her to feel understood. Harville Hendrix uses a similar technique called mirroring in his Imago Relationship Therapy Work.

Mirroring sounds like, “It would make you happy if I took out the garbage regularly without you reminding me. You could relax and trust that I’ll follow through, and you feel good when I share the chores with you.” When we reflect back accurately what the other person has said to us, the person feels understood and respected. This is a powerful tool in de-escalating conflict and re-establishing cooperation.

3. Accountability. Accountability means taking responsibility for our feelings and actions. This, too, takes some self-searching to become more self-aware. So if I’m the one who hasn’t been taking out the garbage, I would find out what’s going on inside myself. Maybe I’ve been busy at work and too tired to do one more thing. Maybe I’ve been fixing things around the house and feel unappreciated. Maybe I’m getting back at you for something else. Maybe I just don’t like taking out the garbage. Whatever it is, I need to clearly know this for myself in order to communicate well.

When you’re working with a partner, it really helps if you both make a sincere effort to understand and cooperate with each other. Make a statement out loud to each other setting your intention to find more peaceful ways of interacting so that you communicate better, have less arguments, and more constructive discussions. If your partner won’t work with you, state an intention to yourself and use the methods below on your own. They will still prove very useful.


Copyright © Amy Torres 2009