Monday, November 5, 2007

Conflict Resolution

Disagreement is normal in any relationship. How you handle the disagreement, however, can provide a key to understanding whether or not a marriage will survive.

Are you someone, or married to someone, who has a conflict avoidant style of relating? What about someone who is highly conflictual or volatile? Are you, or your significant other, a person who likes to work out little details and make the sanctity of the friendship the most important feature? Researcher John Gottman ( notes that the most difficult relationships are when there are two different styles of relating, that is if someone whose style of relating is conflict avoidant is married to someone whose style tends more toward the volatile style. When partners handle disagreements in different ways, it can be frustrating and destructive to their relationship.

In addition, Gottman noted that most couples disagree about the same things over and over again, approximately two-thirds of a couples’ disagreements are over the same things. If you were not married to your partner and were with someone else, you might not disagree about the same things … but you would have some “perpetual issues.” Gottman lists 25 different issues, from “The Big 4”: children, sex, money and in-laws to issues such as how much time to spend together, neatness and orderliness or timeliness. So, you may not be able to come to an agreement on how to handle all of the family money, however, you might be able to find ways to calmly talk about how to handle this bill or the next paycheck.

There are a few very common blocks to healthy communication and conflict resolution, among them are starting with criticism, being disrespectful and derogatory in looks and comments, escalating to fighting and arguing and leaving and refusing to discuss the issue or stonewalling. Also important are a lack of understanding of your partner’s viewpoint (not agreeing with them) and some sense of what it is about their viewpoint that is important to them.

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