Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rules For Conflict Part II

Here is part two continued of rules for a fair and productive fight:

Perception is reality - this means that it is possible to validate your spouse's subjective experience and perspective without agreeing with them or saying they are objectively right. Wherever they are coming from is their true view of things and arguing with them will not change this. We have this mistaken notion that if we just tell someone our subjective reality it will trump theirs and they will adopt our way of viewing things, which really doesn't happen. "You know I was really upset about feeling fat because I couldn't fit in my jeans but then when you informed me I was beautiful and didn't need to worry about it, it just all clicked and now I feel totally secure!" "I was really hurt and upset with you but then you told me that was immature so I just decided to get over it and not hurt anymore, you are SO right!" "When your mom said I was a selfish incompetent excuse for a wife I was really upset but then you said that was just how she was and to not take it personal so now I'm fine and considering having lunch with her tomorrow." It really never quite works out that way but we argue as if they are just deluded in seeing things from their obviously wrong perspective. The key is learning to accept influence and being able to put yourself in their shoes so you can see and express the validity of their perspective while still seeing things differently.

Emotional Repair - the key to great conflict resolution is realizing you are both imperfect and need to be forgiven often, and therefore extending grace to the other as well. This means after conflict and eventually even during conflict you can practice emotional repair where you take responsibility for your actions rather than blaming or justifying.  Emotional repair is basically restating that we are both on the same team, I did these specific hurtful things, and I really want to be able to have a dialogue without more injury.  This should be done as quick as possible and as thorough as possible.  It is like moving into a beautiful new house when you get married and each fight you break something or put a hole in the wall, emotional repair patches and fixes rather than just continuing to trash the house until there is nothing to look forward to coming home to.

Stay on Topic - this means to dialogue through one issue until everyone feels heard, validated, and empathized with rather than jumping from gripe to gripe, adding more and more without resolving any.  This means no bringing up crap from the past as a way of discrediting the defense's whole case and painting the picture of them as whatever poor character trait - most common complaint is selfishness.  No going on and on with endless stories from the past where you are convinced you are Aesop and by the end of your fable your spouse will feel convicted and the reality is you just end up bickering about story details and missing the main point completely.  No interrupting the other person, it's a sign you aren't listening and don't care, but on the flip side keep tirades to a minimum so interruption is not necessary.  Some people try to filibuster in marriage figuring if they can hold the floor long enough they somehow win, and reality is you end up getting interrupted or at least tuned out.

Avoid Negative Generalities - Never say never or always in the middle of conflict unless your goal is to get your spouse defensive and looking for exceptions, "You claim I NEVER help clean up yet 15 years ago I picked up my socks, therefore you are dead wrong."  It is fine to share a complaint, it isn't OK to criticize.  We often broadly and generally paint the picture of our spouse as unfeeling, frigid, selfish, lazy, or whatever by lumping together all of their mistakes and making a generalization, yet we don't do that for positive things about them.  We make it sound like we view them as a giant horrible loser that every once in a blue moon screws up and gets things right, when we usually really see them as a great loving person who from time to time makes mistakes or drops the ball.  Therefor name calling, character assassination, and generic criticism are off limits as completely ineffective.

Next Post - part three and the conclusion to rules for a fair fight!

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