No matter how perfectly a relationship seems to be going, there will inevitably be conflict. Generally, these disagreements stem from three reasons. The first is a lack of shared information. The second is different values on the part of each person. The third reason comes from personality, past history, and outside factors. These reasons can be referred to as levels and solving the disagreement calls for specific actions depending on that level. If a couple tries to resolve an issue falling under the level three category with strategies from level two, the chances of seeing eye to eye and successfully solving the issue are low. Hence the importance of determining the cause of the conflict and identifying the level to which it pertains.
Most conflicts can be classified as level one, a lack of shared information. Often the easiest to resolve of the three, these disagreements are when the couple either has not clearly heard or understood each other’s stance as well as the reasons supporting it. To address level one conflicts, couples are advised to change the way they’re communicating from out of a mode of advocacy to one of asking questions. As the conversation is slowed down and careful listening is engaged, both parties can work to reveal the information that was either not shared or missed. In these situations, it helps to build a “PAC.” Start by Playing back what was heard or confirming it was interpreted correctly. Then, Agree with what can be agreed upon within that stance. Lastly, Challenge it by asking a question to address additional concerns.
Level two disagreements are the result of different values. Resolving them begins with agreeing to resolve them together, identifying things that are already agreed on, and confirming the source of the specific disagreement. Next, the couple works together to lay out the alternatives, defining their strengths and weaknesses over the others. The couple then checks for agreement on these alternatives and each partner identifies the one or two most important strengths of the alternative they support. The couple then undertakes a creativity exercise: together they formulate a new alternative that combines the most important strengths of the original alternatives. This merged alternative is often quickly agreed to by both partners because it meets their key needs.
Resolving level three disagreements, those relating to outside factors centers around careful communication as well. It begins with one partner empathizing with the other’s position. This can include recognizing his or her own outside issues that could be impacting a viewpoint. By employing observation techniques and reflective listening, the conversation can move forward as questions are asked, answers are listened to and the partner feels the shared information has been heard. The last step is to let time pass if necessary and bring back up the issue in an affirming way when both parties are ready.
Resolving issues through these strategies takes practice, patience, and plenty of consideration. For further information on resolving conflict in a relationship, please see the accompanying resource.
Infographic provided by Porsha Principles