What is that one argument you and your partner have again and again?
Is it about money? The best way to parent? How often to have sex? Many couples have (at least) one sticky issue that causes tension and turmoil for them. As much as they try to avoid it or settle it, they can’t. It frequently comes up and they can’t seem to come to a resolution or even find a way to “agree to disagree.”
This is frustrating and damaging to trust, connection and relationship satisfaction. Depending on the severity of the argument, it might lead to a breakup or divorce.
Your marriage is only dragged down when you and your spouse have the same argument over and over again. Hostility and resentment build and you spend precious time attacking instead of loving each other.
But what else are you to do?
If you didn’t believe you had a good reason for your stance on this sticky issue, you probably would just let your partner be “right” or have his or her “way.” Chances are, you have strong convictions that support your position in the dispute. To go along with what your partner advocates would compromise your morals and ethics.
The really good news is you don’t have to keep having this same argument over and over again AND you also don’t have to be passive or pretend you don’t care about the issue when you really do.
Try these 4 conflict-resolving strategies that might surprise you…
1. Don’t make it a problem.
What would you see if you were an observer looking in on the argument you and your partner keep having? What would your view of the situation be if you were not invested in your “side” or even in your belief that you and your partner have to think and believe exactly the same about this issue?
You’d notice raised voices, tense shoulders, harsh words or hostile silence. Looking on, you’d recognize that these two people hold different views on this subject, but you wouldn’t necessarily see this as a problem.
How would you be freer to really listen to what your partner has to say if you didn’t perceive there to be a problem? How would you possibly talk differently (maybe less defensively) if you were not assuming that this issue is inevitably troublesome for you two?
As crazy as it feels, invite yourself to enter a conversation with your partner without expecting there to be a problem. And even if you discover that you two disagree, keep operating with the mindset that there is no problem– this is just you and your spouse communicating and working toward a solution.
2. Surrender.The word “surrender” is emotionally charged for many of us and especially when it’s applied to a situation where we feel under attack in some way. To “surrender” doesn’t have to mean that you roll over and let yourself be disrespected or silenced. It also doesn’t mean that you give up what’s most important to you.
Surrendering could mean that you stop trying to control what your partner thinks, wants or how he or she reacts (because you can’t anyway). Surrendering also means that you allow the process to unfold. You go with it as you two talk, listen and let an answer emerge to what previously was a roadblock.
3. Be firm.
You might be under the impression that you HAVE been firm in past heated discussions you and your partner have had, but it’s probable that you haven’t. Most of us move back and forth between rigidity and caving in during an argument and afterward. Where have you possibly “drawn your line in the sand” and then not followed through?
This is something many of us do and it’s confusing for everyone involved.
If you’re going to set a boundary with your partner, make sure it’s one you really want to set and that you’ll be consistent about. Is the boundary an effective way for you to get your needs met? Is it reasonable for you and your partner? Think through requests, boundaries and agreements before presenting them to your spouse and be clear and firm about them.
4. Go until completion.Avoiding conflict is something so many of us do– even the hotheads among us! You probably don’t like to feel separation between you and your partner and you may have a habit of putting off difficult conversations or cutting short tense discussions for this very reason.
You believe that you’ll never agree and so you tip toe around the sticky issue or you only touch the surface of it. The hope is that this will just go away or will “take care of itself.”
Usually it doesn’t.
What would happen if you two made a commitment to stay in the same room together and continue to communicate until you both feel resolved and complete about it? Come up with some ground rules so that you each feel like you have your time to talk and your time to listen. Agree to only take a break from the conversation to calm down if one of you feels unable to control his or her temper and then be sure you return to the conversation in a specific amount of time (like 10 or 15 minutes).
Set a clear intention at the beginning of this conversation that you two are going to really focus in on one particular topic and state that your goal is to reach a decision or plan of action that you both can accept. If this is a complicated issue (and many of them are), go for completion on certain aspects or an initial time frame.