We’ve all heard over and over again that conflict is inevitable within a relationship. The common opinion is that we must deal with this conflict and learn to resolve it. We believe that the essence of this myth is a fallacious assumption. Although well-intentioned, this attitude often leads to unnecessary separation and estrangement between couples. It perpetuates the view that the partners are separate and on different sides. It reinforces differences such as those of gender and personality, and instead of making those differences potentially positive, it presents them as fixed obstacles to be overcome.
There’s a simple and surprisingly powerful way to approach this that can transform a couple’s experience of problem solving and decision making.
Indeed, each of you is seeking an experience of mutuality, not separation. This must remain at the top of their minds at all times.
This can be difficult to achieve in practice. We are used to conflict being our normal response, but the pattern can be changed by making a different choice. Create a basic format (or ritual, if you prefer) that you use to solve problems and make decisions. Start by talking out loud to each other that you are on the same side and are looking for a solution together. Hold hands or be in physical contact, and each of you proclaim that she intends to come to a mutually agreeable place.
Anytime you feel yourself losing touch with your partner and becoming defensive or arguing, remind yourself that you are in this together and return to the emotional connection you committed to in the beginning. Believe that a result is possible, even if you can’t see it yet, and that the two of you want to achieve it together. Reaffirm to your partner that you want to come to a solution or decision that is good for both of you together.
The way forward is for each person to assert what they want in turn. It comes from ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ (the finger pointing at you), both in thought and in choice of language. “How can we find a solution to this problem?” “What is the best decision for us?” The change in language from ‘you’ to ‘we’ has a powerful effect in itself. Eliminate accusations and attacks, and avoid putting the other person on the defensive. No decision or solution works unless it is mutual.
Don’t fall off the car! If your partner does, don’t join him or her; instead, help them by staying committed to a shared solution. This is the point where you can make a conscious choice to act differently. A small change will provoke a different reaction and the whole discussion can take an alternative path. By refusing to let conflict in, even if it comes from your partner, your response can change the entire tenor of the exchange.
Above all, it is important to remember that this is not a hard and heavy fight. This is a dance that they are doing together. Make it light and make it cheerful.
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