Thursday, May 07, 2009

Managing Conflict in Relationships 101

A.R. and I were married in the Catholic church in a full Catholic mass and I actually converted to Catholicism in March 2008 during the Easter Vigil before we were married (not required by the church, just something I wanted to do). After our wedding we were surprised to start receiving a monthly newsletter, called Foundations, geared towards newlyweds. Come to find out it is a free gift to us from our church to help us out on the beginning of our journey in life as newlyweds and there have been quite a few helpful articles in it.

One article this month caught my eye and I thought it might help all those couples out there...newly dating, engaged, newly married, young, or old. A.R. and I haven't experienced much conflict yet, but I'm sure our time will come some day especially as we start to expand our family and face the challenges of raising a child together. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Four Elements of Resolving Conflict (Foundations. April 2009. Vol XVI, No. 6.)
1. Know the distinction between difference and disagreements.
You can differ with your spouse without having a disagreement. You can vote for different presidential candidates, or prefer different restaurants, or have different favorite movies. These differences do not necessarily impact your relationship, because you can act on your own to satisfy your preference. But if you differ about whether to live on the East or West coast, or if you differ over whether or not to buy a house, then it is hard to go forward without resolving that difference.

2. Differences become disagreements when space is limited.
When you live together and are committed to staying together, then your choices of some basic issues become matters for joint decision-making. Not only is your physical space limited, but your psychic space is limited too. How do you feel about having company on a Saturday evening? How do you feel about cleaning up the house Saturday afternoon in order to have it ready for company Saturday evening? It's "our" decision, it's "our" company, and it's "our" space to make ready. We may have different needs for socializing, different desires for time use and different standards for tidiness, all of which have to be negotiated for this one event.

3. When disagreements heat up, they become conflicts.
There is a bodily reaction that happens when you are in a conflict. Your pulse rises, your breathing speeds up, and you often get sweaty palms. Your body is sending adrenaline into your system, because it believes you are in danger. It is preparing you to fight. This reaction happens faster in some people than others, but whenever it happens, it drives the ability to come to a reasonable solution right out of the picture. The fight instict drives away the learned response to compromise every time. And since, when you are ready to fight you can not feel the love you have for your partner, the conflict takes place in a dangerous zone, without the caring that normally characterizes your interactions with one another.
Each time you get this far it is a choice point in your relationship. You can either resolve the conflict and come back together feeling good about each other and your relationship, or you can come away feeling embattled and resentful, and it will make your relationship more difficult, at least for awhile.

4. Conflicts are resolved more easily when you can cool off first.
Making the choice to back away from a fight until you can talk calmly, while taking a huge amount of discipline, can reap such big benefits for your relationship. The only way to win an argument in a marriage is for both partners to come away feeling that they were heard AND respected.

I hope you find this article helpful...I hope I don't have to put it to use anytime soon, but I like to absorb useful information like this as A.R. and I work towards building a strong foundation for our marriage in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.



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