Working Through Conflict More Effectively

The following exercises are designed to help couples work through conflict more effectively. If your relationship is beset with conflicts which occasionally spin out of control, then try learning these relationship skills.

HIDDEN MESSAGES

Explore which hidden issues are operating in your relationship. Consider the degree to which each issue seems to affect your relationship negatively. Note whether certain events have triggered—or keep triggering—the issues.

HIDDEN ISSUES COMMON TRIGGERING EVENTS

Power & Control
Caring/How Important Am I To You?
Recognition
Commitment
Integrity
Acceptance/Approval
Other:

For most couples certain hidden issues come up repeatedly. Identifying these issues may help you lessen their impact and control. Plan some time to talk together about your observations and thoughts. You’ll gain more from this exercise if you place the emphasis on understanding your partner’s point of view as fully and clearly as possible.

CALL A STOP ACTION

All discussion stops while you talk about the discussion itself—specifically why you’re getting triggered, or what happened to make you hostile, angry or hurt. What was said—or implied—that upset you?

A stop action is a request for the two of you to be clear about the intentions you had, and to check out how you were actually interpreted and received. It is designed to help you understand why your mate is getting angry or upset during a discussion—or why you are. Use the stop action to get information and feedback in order to makes things better. Do not list resentments in order to get even.

TO END A STAND OFF, TRY THIS

  • Genuinely try to see things from your partner’s perspective. Summarize how you think your spouse feels. Don’t “yes-but.”
  • Communicate that you feel your partner’s perspective makes sense, even if you don’t agree. There can be two valid ways to view a situation without either person being wrong.
  • Ask your spouse “What can we do to make things better?” or “What would it take for you to feel better and to let go of your anger?”
  • State clearly and specifically what you will be wiling to do to make things better.

The Stop Action and Ending A Stand Off exercise comes from John Gottman et. al. in the book A Couple’s Guide to Communication (Research Press). The Hidden Issue exercise was taken from “Fighting For Your Marriage” by Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg  (Jossey- Bass).

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