Today, I will be discussing a process for conflict resolution in relationships using a seven-step approach. Many couples reaching out for guidance express a crucial need for assistance in handling conflicts, resentments, and arguments. It's common for long-term relationships to experience conflicts and disagreements, yet many of us lack the proper training to effectively resolve these challenges. Consequently, many couples engage in conflicts, experience ruptures in communication, and struggle to find closure. Often, these issues are swept under the rug, gradually accumulating into major problems that can deteriorate the relationship.
What is conflict resolution in relationships?
Conflict resolution in relationships is a process for both partners to sift through their thoughts and feelings about the argument and communicate constructively about their experience and develop solutions moving forward.
Some of you may already be familiar with my Reunite Tool for conflict resolution, which is intended for resentments from recurring patterns or major events in your relationship. Today, I'd like to introduce what I call the Mini Reunite Tool. This approach focuses on step four of the complainer steps in the Reunite Tool, all five listener steps, and each partner takes turns going through it. The Mini Reunite Tool is designed to address minor conflicts or arguments between partners that may not necessarily involve deeper resentments.
7 Steps To Conflict Resolution In Relationships
Partner A Describes Their Experience.
After you both have calmed down, one partner will begin by describing their complaint. You will describe your experience of the conflict, what it made you feel, and what core need it tapped into. However, you can't say "you" because it's accusatory and you can't say "always" or "never" because they are generalizations. For example, "In the argument, my experience is when I got home last night after work I wasn't greeted, it made me feel unimportant, and it tapped into my core need to feel special."
Partner B Summarizes.
Now it's time for partner B to summarize their partner's experience. Providing a summary ensures your partner expressed themselves correctly and it ensures you heard them correctly. Summarizing does not mean you agree with your partner. It's simply summarizing their experience. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant. Therefore, maintaining a neutral expression while summarizing is important. Rolling eyes, audibly sighing, or making disapproving sounds while summarizing is disrespectful so don't do it. Also, it's important to remember that your turn to share your experience will come once these initial steps are completed. For example, "So your experience was when you got home last night I didn't greet you and that made you feel unimportant and it tapped into your core need to feel special. Is that right?"
Partner B Owns Their Part.
In this step, the listener takes responsibility for their contribution to the conflict. It's essential to pause and reflect at this stage. Consider how your actions might have influenced the situation. For example, Did you raise your voice? Did you say something hurtful? Were you insensitive? What did you do that made the conflict worse? That's the piece you can own. This isn't about accepting responsibility for the entire conflict, as projections, past triggers, external circumstances, and other factors can play a role, which is why I refer to it as the 50% rule. Instead, the focus should be on recognizing the specific ways you exacerbated the situation or contributed negatively. The genuineness of this ownership forms the foundation for the subsequent steps. Therefore, take your time on this step until you can own something with sincerity. Also, don't add why you did it because then you're being defensive. For example, "I own that I contributed to the argument by being preoccupied with my phone when you got home instead of greeting you."
Partner B Provides Empathy For Their Part.
As the listener, your role now is to express empathy for the piece you've taken ownership of and how it made your partner feel. This is where you'll need to step into your partner's shoes. You must consider their life journey, their past wounds, their upbringing, their aspirations, and the stressors they face. By genuinely comprehending these factors that shape your partner's identity, you'll be better equipped to empathize with their perspective, as you'll be viewing the experience through their unique lens, not your own. This is the foundation for genuine empathy. Even if you personally don't share their emotional response or wouldn't react similarly, you can still offer empathy because you're seeing the situation from their point of view. For example, "I can see how me being preoccupied with my phone when you came home would have made you feel unimportant."
Partner B Apologizes For Their Part.
Now the listener apologizes for how the piece they are owning made their partner feel. This is similar to the previous empathy step but with a slight change in language. Remember, you're not apologizing for the entire argument. You're only apologizing for the part you're owning and how it made your partner feel. For example, "I'm sorry for how me being preoccupied with my phone made you feel unimportant."
Partner B Makes Amends For Their Part.
While making amends, reflect on how you can make adjustments with the part you're owning that would also work for you. This step is about identifying actionable steps for yourself. Frequently, individuals make vague statements during this step, like "I'll try to be better" or "I'll work harder next time." However, such statements lack specificity. To truly make amends, ensure your action plan is concrete. For instance, if you're owning that you didn't give your partner adequate attention when they came home, a concrete amends could be "Moving forward, I'll put my phone down when I hear the garage open and provide undivided attention when you walk through the door with a hug and kiss. How would that be? What else would you appreciate?" By outlining specific actions, you instill a sense of hope in your partner that you're genuinely dedicated to improving.Now, once you've compiled your action items, it's crucial not to let them slip your mind. To avoid forgetting, I recommend creating a "Partner Cheat Sheet" where you document these action items. Then, after each conflict resolution session using the Mini Reunite Tool, add to the list and review it several days a week. This practice will keep the commitments you've made at the forefront of your mind, serving as a reminder to implement the changes you're striving for in your relationship.
Swap Roles And Do All The Steps Again.
Now, the partners will take turns. The person who was initially the listener will now share their experience of the conflict, what they felt, and their core needs that were affected. The other partner will then follow the same set of listener steps.
This technique is remarkably effective and has the potential to revolutionize the way you handle conflicts. Moreover, it facilitates listening, learning, and closure – putting an end to the practice of sweeping issues under the rug.
In the argument, my experience was ____, it made me feel____, and it tapped into my core need for ____. (can't say "you, always, or never")
A-Summarize their experience “So your experience was____, it made you feel____, and it tapped into your core need for____, is that right?”
B- Apply the 50% rule by thinking about how you contributed to the argument and made it worse.
“I own that I contributed to the argument by ____” (allow for a moment of silence so it feels more genuine)
“I can see how me doing ____ would have made you feel ____” (allow for a moment of silence so it feels more genuine)
“I’m sorry for how me doing ____ made you feel ____” (allow for a moment of silence so it feels more genuine)
Think about changes you can make moving forward on the part you’re owning that would also work for you. “Moving forward, how about I ____, what do you think? What else would you appreciate?”
Swap Roles And Do The Steps Again!
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How could the Mini Reunite Tool improve conflict resolution in your relationship?