From Stalemate to Soulmate
10 Creative Ways To Counteract Conflict
By Michael Obsatz
Peter and Martha Clark agree on most things. But they don’t see eye-to-eye about Martha spending two evenings a week with her mother, who is in a nursing home. Roger and Emily Austin have had some difficulties with the issue of household maintenance. Since Emily has gone back to work, she believes Roger should help out more with the cooking and cleaning. If Kevin and Andrea Stanley have a free evening, she’d rather go out for an intimate dinner, and he’d rather relax in front of the television. Conflicts exist in marriage because spouses have different priorities, needs and interests.
Different attitudes, feelings, desires and goals can lead to disagreements, so spouses need to learn to discuss, negotiate and compromise. Here are some issues that couples need to reach some level of agreement:
* How do we spend our money? How much can we save? What is worth buying? What
do we need now and what can be postponed?
* How should we best spend our time? How much time do we want to spend
together, and how much apart?
* Whose job is more important if a promotion means moving to a new part of the country?
* How do we raise our children? Who disciplines them, and how?
* What is our commitment to relatives and friends? How often do we see them, and for how long?
* What kind of recreation can we afford? How does recreation fit into our scheduled work life? What do we enjoy doing together?
* What kind of spiritual nurturance do we need? Where do we go to worship? What is our commitment to spiritually nurturing others?
* Who does which chores and maintenance? How are tasks divided? Who does the work nobody wants to do?
* Do we value and treat males and females equally? How do power and privilege affect our relationship?
* What traditions, rituals and celebrations are important? How can we combine differences in family-of-origin rituals into a new, meaningful family ritual?
Sometimes, a person assumes that his or her spouse agrees on an issue and is later shocked to find that the spouse may have been accommodating. A key step to working on conflicting situations is to be open about what you really want. Then discuss why it is important to you.
A healthy marriage needs to feel fair to both partners. Each must feel like he or she is being heard, taken seriously and getting his or her fair share of the rewards, air time and choices.
When there are differences, it is important to negotiate, listen openly and then work out some system of compromise that seems fair to both people. One way people can compromise is to take turns in having one’s way. Another way is for each person to move in the direction of the other person. A third way is to come up with an alternative mutually satisfactory solution that will work although neither person thought of it originally.
A step-by-step approach to coping with conflict situations involves:
1. Each spouse states his or her idea of what the conflict is about.
2. Each spouse listens, and then paraphrases the other’s perceptions.
3. Where there are differing ideas about the issue, clarification occurs.
4. Partners show caring and respect during the statement of the issue.
5. Each expresses his or her point of view about what action should be taken.
6. Each is politely asked to support his or her opinion with information or intuition, and does so.
7. After examining the merits of the differing cases, they decide to take turns, compromise or brainstorm alternative solutions.
8. They are supportive and appreciative of their spouse’s willingness to hear them out, and they express this.
9. They stay on the issue, and don’t bring irrelevant or tangential information which can lead them off course.
10. They agree to convene at a future time to evaluate how the action was accomplished and what they learned from it.
This model of conflict resolution creates a win/win situation, because the process focuses on respect and fairness. If Peter and Martha, Roger and Emily, and Kevin and Andrea follow the ten steps outlined above, they will come up with creative solutions in which both may not always get exactly what they want, but they will feel cared about, respected and understood.
(The above material was published by MARRIAGE July/August l993)
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