In parts one and two of my series on managing conflict within a relationship, I examined the reasons why conflict is important and the first two steps to resolving disagreements so that your love for each other grows from the experience.
I explained in Step One that everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and feelings, even if they differ from their partner's. In Step Two, I explained that everyone is entitled to have their thoughts and feelings heard and understood. Now we examine the last three steps of the process.
Step Number Three: Define precisely what the difference is between you. Sometimes I worry about the fact that all of us have a tendency to throw everything into the discussion. "Don't forget what your mother did five years ago. I'll never forget what she did. And your brother, I can't believe that he'd...." "We're only talking about who's going to take the car to get it washed Saturday morning." "What your mother, your brother, I mean those have nothing...." Define precisely what the two of you are dealing with. What's the conflict about, precisely? Leave everything else out.
Step Number Four is simply this: There needs to be a compromise statement in your relationship vocabulary. This is the statement I use with my wife, Marylyn. I wonder if she knows how many times I've used this: "Okay now honey, how can I give on this and how can you give on this so that we will be together on this?"
I need to tell you, whenever I use that statement or whenever Marylyn uses that statement we know we're on the way to resolution. "Okay now honey, how can I give on this?" As soon as I hear her say anything like that I'm pretty sure that as soon as she hears me say anything like that she knows that I'm in a giving mood. I'm ready to give to anybody who will give to me. And when she gives, and when I give, we resolve. Conflict resolution.
Step Number Five: Congratulate one another every single time you resolve conflict. I've got to tell you that one of the best skills the two of you can ever develop is taking a conflict and turning it into an asset.
I often think about the fact that our conflict, Marylyn's and mine, is usually in the same area over and over. Marylyn likes it colder in the winter time and warmer in the summer time than I do. I really like it nice and warm in the winter and I like it plenty cold in the summer.
It makes perfect sense to me that the thermostat is the place we ought to operate on the problem. For Marylyn, I honestly believe that her thriftiness comes out. She wants the air conditioner on less in the summer than I want it on. She wants the heat on less in the winter than I want it on. And so we have an ongoing problem.
One night I was staying up late to watch the UCLA/Oregon basketball game-they used to come on in replays after the fact and it was really late. I noticed during the game that it was really warm in the room, but I kind of like that, because I like it warm in the winter and basketball is in the winter. Once the game was over, I was all excited and went up to bed. The next morning Marylyn came up and said, "You know the reason we didn't sleep very well is because the heat was left on last night. It was so hot in here."
The heat was left on. She said, "Yeah, I turned it up kind of warm so that you could be nice and warm at dinner." And I said, "Yeah, I walked right by that thermostat and I didn't turn it down. I was the problem, and thanks so much for turning the heat up for me to be warm at dinner."
Nothing else was said. That night she came home from work and she just said two sentences to me: "That was really nice the way you handled that problem about the heat. I'm glad that you understood what I was trying to say."
You know, I could hardly wait for more conflict with her. It felt like we had taken such a nice step. You see, what that conflict had done was it provided us an opportunity to get closer to each other. I felt so good that she turned the heat up so that I'd be warm at dinner. She felt so good that I'd taken responsibility for the heat being up all night so that we couldn't sleep.
I felt so good that she felt so good about the fact that I had taken that responsibility. I just wanted more conflict. That's the way to make a marriage work.
Make sure that you have mastered this five-step approach to managing conflict with the person with whom you want to be involved. Make sure you've mastered this before you get married because if you have, your marriage will endure for as long as you live.
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