3. learn how to resolve conflict

We all get into conflict from time to time, it’s inevitable. The real challenge is how to deal with it in a life-enhancing and intimacy building way!
Please re-read the section on honest self-expression in module three as this is at the heart of healthy conflict resolution. The following is an exercise that I share with people who want a safe, proven way to resolve conflict in a way that increases intimacy. Because it requires both people to agree to it, you will have to get the other person to agree to using it as well. My suggestion is to read through it a couple of times together and then to use it next time you are in conflict.

The Respectful Communication Process

A = Awareness
  • Become aware that you are stressed, tense or upset towards your partner.
  • Say to them something along the lines of ‘I need to share something important with you – is now a good time?’
  • If it is, move on to the next step. If it isn’t, agree exactly when would be a good time, but as a general rule of thumb it is best to do this exercise in the moment.
A = Active Listening
  • Both of you should sit down opposite each other.
  • The person who has asked to do this exercise should take a few deep breaths and then start talking, while the other person listens.
  • The person who is listening is going to use active listening. This, as its name suggests, means actively listening to the other person without interruption. The goal of the listener is to understand what is going on for the other person, by listening to them and trying to see things from their perspective.
  • The person who is speaking needs to explain what is going on for them. One very effective and relatively non-threatening way to communicate is to use ‘I’ statements to communicate your feelings about some aspect of your partner’s behaviour. Stay clear of character assassinations. For example, ‘You have absolutely no respect for all the hard work I do around the house. You just sit their treat me like a slave. You are arrogant and selfish’ would become,I feel taken for granted and unappreciated at the moment. I’m really tired and exhausted with doing all the housework myself. If you could help me for just 20 minutes twice week that would make me feel so much happier. It would demonstrate to me that you really care for me.’
  • Once the message has been communicated, the receiver needs to feed back the message in a way that demonstrates that they have genuinely understood the other person. At this stage you don’t have to agree with what has been said, but you are validating and acknowledging what has been said.
  • The receiver then asks whether he or she has correctly understood everything. The first person either says yes or communicates the areas that have been left out. The receiver once again provides feedback.
  • Now you reverse roles, so that the other person shares their feelings.
A = Action
Once you have both communicated your feelings to each other, if it has been done effectively and genuinely you should notice a shift in the energy between you both. The focus is now on what specific action, if any, needs to be taken. Using the example above, Mary and John agreed:
1. John will help with the housework for 20 minutes every Saturday morning and Wednesday evening.
2. When John gets home from work, rather than watching TV he will spend 15 minutes with Mary so they can talk about their respective days.
A = Appreciation
Once you’ve agreed on a plan of action, then it’s time to re-connect to each other. This could be anything from hugging, going for a walk, to kissing or making love. Whatever works for you!

When arguments cross the threshold

From time to time, arguments may get out of hand. By this I mean:
  • Verbally abusive
  • Potentially physically abusive
  • One of you feels emotionally overwhelmed
If any of these rear their head, then ‘time out’ can be called. Calling time out is a clear signal that this has gone too far and you can’t cope.
  • On calling time out, all exchanges and communication must stop instantly.
  • The person who called time out must leave the room, but affirm that they are not leaving the relationship or threatening the relationship
  • Each person then must use whatever tools they want to calm them down.
  • Once the person who called time out feels calm enough, they return to the room with the other person and ask if they are ready to talk.
  • If that other person is ready, then use the respectful communication exercise
Other tips for conflict
  • When you sense conflict is about to happen or is happening immediately try and get in the shoes of the other person, and see things from their point of view. See my section on empathy
  • Focus on your breathing, breathe deeply and slowly and listen to what the other person has to say
  • Drop the need to be right. Do you want to be right or in a relationship?
  • Avoid the tendency to slip into defensive mode if that is what you usually do. Just focus on breathing and listening

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