Good relationships are made up of many good qualities, one of which is learning how to manage your differences effectively. While good conflict management is not the only necessary skill for a happy relationship, couples who learn such skills, and practice them, will find more happiness in 2014 than those who don’t.
One helpful hint in successfully managing your differences is learning to be wise. By definition, the dictionary defines the word wise as “showing or having good judgment.”
When applying such wisdom to couples, we find that the word “wise” stands for the following:
“W” reminds couples to wait before they speak. When couples are mad and simply state whatever comes to mind they often make things worse. By waiting to speak, couples can edit their comments and avoid saying every hurtful thing that comes to mind. By doing so, couples can manage their differences easier and come to a resolution faster since they aren’t adding more fuel to an already conflictual fire.
“I” reminds couples to inquire. Often in conflict we are so busy defending our point of view that we forget there are two sides to every story. My experience as a therapist has taught me that if I listen to both sides of a couples’ story, I often find myself saying “I can see what you’re saying, you’re right.” Ironically, I find myself saying this to both sides of the story.
This happens because most of us are married to reasonable people. And because we are married to reasonable people, they usually make reasonable decisions. Granted, when we look at an issue from only our side it’s very difficult to see what’s reasonable about the other’s view. However, if couples take the time to inquire and see the issue from their partner’s view, more often than not they will see what’s reasonable about their opinion.
“S” reminds couples to start off softly. Very few of us like to have our perceived errors pointed out to us, and, when it’s done by adding attacks on our personality and bringing up every other mistake we ever made, it only adds insult to injury. When a spouse starts off with such harsh words, it makes it very difficult for their partner not to get defensive and angry. When this happens couples move farther from resolution and closer to making the conversation worse. By starting off softly, which includes not calling our partner names and sticking to the issue at hand, couples will find resolution comes easier.
“E” reminds couples to explore resolutions. During ineffective conflict, couples spend more time focusing on the problem instead of a solution. While sometimes discussing the problem is necessary, too much talk on the problem prevents talk about what to do differently. For instance, in a healthy 20-minute conversation about differences, couples may spend five minutes on the problem and 15 minutes exploring possible resolutions. By the end of such time, the couple has come up with some ideas to fix the problem. In an unhealthy 20-minute conversation, couples may spend the whole time discussing the problem. If not handled correctly, such couples will usually find the situation worse than when they started. Again, it’s not that discussing the problem is bad, but done by itself time and time again, couples will never arrive at any type of resolution.
For the majority of couples, conflict will never be an enjoyable or easy part of their relationship. Thankfully, research shows that happy relationships are based on more than just being good at resolving differences. However, couples who are interested in decreasing the damage conflict causes would be wise to remember to be wise.
Remember, couple relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.
For more information on happy relationships, visit www.panhandlecouples.com
Mark Anderson, MS, LMHP is a mental health therapist specializing in couples therapy. He is in private practice in Scottsbluff at Oregon Trail Mental Health. He can be reached at 308-635-2800 or online at www.panhandlecouples.com.