If you are finding that oftentimes your discussions or arguments with your partner either go nowhere or escalate to full blown fighting, you may find this article helpful to you. Successful conflict resolution can be achieved using a few simple steps. Let’s begin with the following example:
Man: You are spending way too much money lately. We cannot afford all the things you have been buying. Our accounts are overdrawn at the end of every month.
Woman: I do not! I only buy what we need. (denial)
Man: Our credit card bill shows purchases for expensive haircuts, fancy clothing, and daily frappuccinos at starbucks. These are luxuries we can’t afford right now.
Woman: Look, I needed a haircut, I haven’t gotten one in 18 months. Our daughter needed an outfit for her graduation ceremony, and after everything I do for you and this family, I don’t think buying myself some frappuccinos is too much to ask. (defensiveness, stonewalling)
Man: Well, you need to figure out a way to spend less money. We can’t keep going into debt.
Woman: Well, I don’t know what you want from me.
As you can see, this conversation is going nowhere. The Man is left feeling unheard and the Woman is annoyed.
Man: We are spending too much money lately. We cannot afford all of the things we’ve been buying. Our accounts are overdrawn at the end of every month.
Woman: I hear you. As the main breadwinner and financial planner of this family, I get that you are stressed about the amount of money we’ve been spending every month.
Man: I appreciate that. Our credit card bill shows purchases for expensive haircuts, fancy clothing, and daily frappuccinos at starbucks. These are luxuries we can’t afford right now.
Woman: It’s true I’ve been spending more money lately than I normally do. It’s been so long since I’ve had a haircut and I wanted our daughter to look nice and feel really special at her graduation. And it’s true I’ve been splurging a bit on coffee.
Man: Is it possible to look at our expenditures to see where we can cut back?
Woman: Well, I really do feel like I needed that haircut but I will only buy clothes on sale. I’ll start bringing coffee from home and cut back my starbucks runs to once a week, instead of everyday.
As you can see, scenario #2 had a much better outcome than scenario #1. Here’s why:
Woman followed the 3 simple steps to achieving successful conflict resolution.
Step 1: Acknowledge the other person’s point of view. I can’t stress this point enough. People need to feel that their opinions and issues of importance matter to their loved ones, and are acknowledged. Acknowledging someone else’s point of view is not the same as agreeing with it. Your goal is to make sure the other person feels heard.
e.g. Woman: “…I get that you are stressed about our overdrawn bank accounts.”
Step 2: Own your part. If someone comes at you in an accusatory or combative way, it’s easy to a) get defensive b) run for cover c) become accusatory or combative right back or d) tell them that they aren’t speaking to you very nicely, therefore you cannot address what they are staying. This step involves being honest with yourself and your partner and taking responsibility for your share of the issue, regardless of how it’s being presented to you. Sift through and filter out the way the issue is being presented (if it’s being done in an angry or accusatory way) and think to yourself, “does my partner have a point? Is there truth to what s/he is saying? 99 times out of 100, there is. Own it and take responsibility for it.
e.g. Woman: “It’s true I’ve been spending more money lately…”
Step 3: Accept influence/Make changes. Decide what, if anything, you can do to accommodate your partner. Even a very small change can go a long way in demonstrating to your partner that you are a team player and will do what it takes to alleviate some of his stress. If you cannot make changes, let your partner know that you wish you could but it’s just not possible for you right now. Explain why. See if there’s another way you can be supportive to your partner.
e.g. Woman “…I’ll start bringing coffee from home and cut back my starbucks runs to once a week, instead of everyday.”
e.g. Woman “I don’t see how we can cut back on spending right now but I’ll see if I can take on some extra hours at work.
One last point:
Notice that in scenario #1, the Man used “You” language, e.g., “you are spending too much money.” In scenario #2, the Man used “We” language, e.g., “we are spending too much money.” “You” can sound more accusatory and is more likely to cause the listener to become defensive. Perhaps the Woman in scenario #2 was able to be more responsive because the Man’s initial choice of words were less combative and allowed her to be more receptive.