If you agree that some disagreements are inevitable in even the best relationships, then it’s important to establish ground rules for healthy negotiations. Let’s look at seven principles of constructive conflict:
1. Both people have a legitimate right to feel and think the way they do.
No one is wrong simply because he or she has a different point of view. There is something wonderful about being told by your partner, “I disagree with you, but I respect and honor your position.” This reduces the threat of feeling wrong just because you’re different.
2. Your points of disagreement must be crystal clear to both of you.
Half of all disagreements could likely be settled in minutes if both partners knew exactly what they were fighting about. So often when emotions get revved up and adrenaline starts flowing, communication becomes muddled. It’s helpful to stop and say, “What precisely is the issue here? What are we really fighting about?”
3. Disagreements should be settled as quickly as possible.
Conflict can almost always be managed more successfully in the “spark phase” rather than the “blaze phase.” The sooner you can extinguish the flames, the less damage will be done.
4. If just one of you “wins” the argument, you both lose.
Conflicts get our competitive juices flowing, and winning the argument becomes the number-one goal. In the heat of battle, it’s easy to focus on what is best for “me” than what’s best of us. It feels great if I win the argument—but it hasn’t helped to strengthen the relationship.
5. Put-downs and name calling are strictly forbidden.
Any comment intended to demean or degrade the other person will do nothing to solve the problem. It will only drive you and your partner farther apart to say, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
6. Remember to use your ears more than your mouth.
One of the principles in Steven Covey’s popular book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, is to seek to understand rather than be understood. In the midst of a squabble, nothing facilitates progress as dramatically as listening. This can be tough to do when we’re intent on defending our own position. But when we open ourselves to our partner’s thoughts and feelings, barriers come down.
7. The goal of conflict is unity and understanding.
When a couple encounters conflict, they stand at a fork in the road. One path leads to disunity and dissension; the other leads to unity and understanding. You can choose to fight mean and nasty, or you can choose to fight fair and open-mindedly. Each choice will reap consequences, either for great gain or terrible loss.
Before you decide to settle down with someone, be sure the two of you know how to settle conflicts in a healthy and healing way.
Read on for similar articles in our Stages of Love road map!