Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rules for Conflict Part I

War has rules. You can't torture people, you can't execute prisoners of war, you can only play a maximum of three Justin Bieber songs or it is considered cruel and unusual. There seems to be rules everywhere except for within marriage conflict, where it's every man and woman for themselves. We often see conflict as a battlefield and anything is fair in love and war, right? Depends on if abuse is happening or if you want your conflict to be beneficial versus destructive. Three posts will be my complete set of rules for a fair fight - effective conflict resolution skills.

No Abuse - this means physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, sexual, or any other type of abuse where the other person is dehumanized, degraded, and destroyed. I'm not talking about a give and take heated exchange where everyone is on the same level, but an intimidating bullying approach which attempts to cause the other person to cower in fear and shut up and do what you say. If you wouldn't want your son doing it to their wife or your daughter being treated that way some day then stop it now.

Don't ever try to win an argument - nobody wins an argument, either you both feel closer, more heard, and connected because of conflict or you have both lost. Arguing for an invisible jury, dropping emotional artillery, or just trying hard to be heard by using to two common tactics of repeating yourself or getting louder just don't work (Unless they just happen to have hearing loss). The vast majority of what couples argue about is subjective, like whether something should have hurt the others' feelings, rather than objective like the capital of South Dakota. There is no right and wrong, just whether we feel heard and validated and empathized with. 70% of what all couples argue about are considered perpetual issues which will never be resolved. You will have the same 5-10 issues at day one and in fifty years, and no she will never be more adventurous and no he will never be more cleanly. This means only 30% results in some sort of resolution so you do best to focus on hearing and understanding each other rather than fixing each other.

Know your thermostats and reschedule when you are flooded - we are all wired to handle a certain amount of conflict before physiologically we begin shutting down. Like a thermostat that determines when we have sustained too much conflict we get adrenaline dumped in our system and we have the fight or flight response, actually there are two more - freeze and nurture as well. We are all wired to respond in a predictable way and they all can be very hurtful when you are on the receiving end. If your spouse hears the signal that it is time for conflict and immediately go for the jugular they are a fighter, if you instinctively look for the nearest exit and say or do whatever it takes to get out if there you are a flighter. If your spouse goes into screensaver, deer in the headlights mode during conflict he is a freezer, and if you nervously scurry around cleaning, mending, and attending then you are a nurturer. While I have trouble seeing how getting your house cleaned every time conflict happens is a bad thing I hear that all four are devastating to someone trying to be heard and understood. The solution? Know where your cut-off is and before it gets there offer to reschedule for a specific time. Half hour, hour, next morning? Whenever it is, just make sure it is clear we both want to discuss this but right now we are in diffuse physiological arousal and so we will be ineffective at hearing, processing, and storing data. Until we are calmed and soothed we are no good in conflict. This doesn't mean running away when things get tough, or saying what they want to hear, but rather optimizing your conflict by only having it with a brain and body that is able to stay engaged.

No triangulation - keep the conflict between you and your spouse - no bringing anyone else into it. Don't argue in Walmart like rednecks, don't argue in front if your kids, and don't vent to others. I'll likely do a whole post on just this as it is one if my major pet peeves but venting is very unhealthy and produces nothing good. If you have a problem with your spouse talk to them about it not your mom, your sister, your best friend, the guys on the golf course or anyone else who can't actually fix the problem.

Two more posts and you'll have an idea how to make conflict beneficial rather than destructive!

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