Using Conflict Resolution to Improve Relationships
Jun 10, 2013 - 12:03:00 AM
One of the first things I like teaching couples is the importance of how they address themselves within the marriage. For example, there is ample research to support that couples saying, "I" or "we" are happier. Those who say, "you" are not. Saying, "You feel this way" or "You always say this" is going to start a conflict, because it sounds accusatory. Compare that to, "I think this" or "we went away." This makes whoever you say it to feel acknowledged and helps them be receptive to what is next. As Dr. Pennebaker, a well-published psychologist says, "If you want to stop conflict in your relationship, quit saying YOU." Two other words to avoid for family peace are NEVER and ALWAYS.
The second key for success in your relationship is one researched by Dr. John Gottman, a guru in the field of couples therapy and one I talk about frequently, which includes the ratio of how many good things you say to one another versus the number of negative things said. Gottman's research has shown that the first three minutes of each conversation determines the most important points of positive vs. negative. After that it gets louder but the content is repeated. Couples who are aware of this can be careful with their first three minutes, and if they feel angry, rather than using words to negate or hurt, they can ask for a time out. Getting space changes everything. This plan rubs off on the kids too, and you will see less conflict among the kids when parents focus on how they manage their own conflicts.
A third and very important point stated in the NYT article as well as most couple's therapy sessions is to remember the importance of coming and going. The majority of family fights occur when members are coming together or saying goodbye. For example, getting your kids to school, and leaving for work in the morning, and coming home in the evening. More fascinating is that men and women agreed that the time from 6 to 8 p.m. were the most stressful times. Men said they were excited and happy about coming home, but women said they were stressed due to the anticipation of all the things required at home such as taking care of the kids, and housework. Knowing this, try enjoying quiet time when you first come home, and teaching this to your children as well. Get everyone fed, and allow family members time to change clothes and relax prior to digging in to the night time activities.
In the business world as well as home there are little things that can make a huge difference when talking with someone. For example, if you want someone to feel relaxed and open, have them sit in a cushioned chair. When you sit in a hard chair you automatically become more rigid and defensive. Every home and office should have a couple of chairs that are padded well, and comfy. It is no surprise that in almost every counseling practice there are ample soft chairs.
We become so wrapped up in our beliefs and getting our way that we forget it is much better if both of us get our way. This is not only possible, but it predicts the happiness within a marriage, family and work place. You don't need counseling to achieve conflict resolution, but you do need a willing partner or colleague. Sometimes, negotiating this does require therapeutic intervention. -Mary Jo Rapini
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