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Tips: Discuss for Resolution:: Instead of Fighting to Win
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, May 2008

Relationships should be a safe place.
Nobody wants to reveal themselves if they know they will be hurt or attacked. If you are afraid of your partner or what he or she will say then you need to learn conflict resolution skills. It is important to listen with an open heart instead of defending yourself, and to give feedback about what was said to you before you respond. This way, you MUST listen to your partner and AVOID focusing on your response. Give up the need to rebut or offer a flip retort. While your partner is talking, listen wholly. When you respond, offer back what you heard in a kindly manner and then respond so you are sure you heard what he or she said both in words and feeling.

Realize that conflict is normal. Everyone has strong feelings about some things, and your partner can't be expected to know what's really important to you from the day you meet. Further, the most common issues couples argue over are money, in-laws, chores, children, and sex. We all know from experience that many men and women communicate in different ways. And what we learn very quickly when we are in intimate relationships is that men and women from different families communicate in even more varied ways. It is part of the challenge in relationships to understand HOW and WHY your partner's style is what it is.

Keep in mind that conflict can be very productive if it leads to resolution, but harmful if it leads to continued resentment. Conflict sometimes lets us know what's really important to our partners, and hopefully why. Resolving conflict is one of the ways that you and your partner reveal your strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities to each other. If you fight wisely, you learn to rely on each others' strengths, compensate for your weaknesses, and protect your vulnerabilities. Thus, you can't learn "not to disagree" since that is impossible. You can, however, learn how to fight (dare I say, DISCUSS?) productively.

Here are some suggestions for arguing in constructive ways:

Think about what you want to say BEFORE you get into an argument - Plan the points that you want to make. Know what you want to say before you begin so your thoughts are organized and focus on only one topic. Don't bring up your laundry list of grievances; it will only bring your partner's defensiveness and get you off topic.

Don't Overwhelm Your Partner - Try to modulate your voice. Bringing it down instead of up can have a positive effect both on the discussion and on the relationship. You don't have to be overbearing or try to raise your voice or insult or intimidate your partner to get the point across. In fact if you do these things, you are likely to alienate your partner and move further away from resolution and intimacy.

Listen as Much as You Talk - In an argument, people want to say their peace, and it's much more difficult to listen to the other person but just as key for a good discussion.

Walk away When you Feel You are Going to Lose it - Take responsibility for your own reaction and suggest that you table the discussion for 10 minutes or 1 hour or 1 day so you can gather your wits and think about what is going on. If you do this you are less likely to say and do things that you will regret AND you will be more likely to be approachable and sensible. Just remember to tell your partner what is going on (don't just storm out of the room) and to come back to the conversation with a fresh eye and ear.

Seek Professional Help - When it feels that it's getting beyond the individual argument and it's affecting your life, your children's lives, your social life, your work life, and now, your health, it is important to consult with a trained counselor.

Before you jump into blaming and judging your partner, stop and take a moment to breathe. Ask yourself if making your partner wrong will drive you further apart or move you closer toward healing the rift. Open your heart to understanding the dynamics of what's going on between the two of you. Understand the full story before you start making someone wrong. So often we assume to know what is in someone's heart and we really don't. Take the time to find out!

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