Monique West, LCSW-R
Steps to Conflict Resolution: Moving Towards Forgiveness
Ever feel like no matter how much you attempt to communicate, negotiate, compromise, and plead issues in your relationship seem to always come up and go generally unresolved? If so you may be missing some key steps in conflict resolution that may bring forth forgiveness and release of emotional injury. Here are a few steps to practice to improve your conflict resolution skills:
1. Clarify the problem. Before you launch into a verbal discussion with your significant other, ask yourself, what about this conflict is truly bothering me and why is it rubbing me the wrong way? What does this conflict really represent for me? What do I want my partner to know about my feelings? What do I want my partner to do or not do? Am I in a frame of mind to bring up this issue right now? Can I deliver my feelings in a way that is undefended and non-inflammatory?
2. Ask for what you want. Ask yourself what do I want to have happen in my conversation with my partner? Remember to clearly ask for what you want and ask if your partner can fulfil this request. What are some possible outcomes that could be helpful to diffuse this conflict?
3. Spirit of Generosity. Having a good spirit in conflict discussions are important for the long-term emotional wealth of your relationship. Remember that you can be right OR you can be happy. The spirit of seeking to understand rather than proving a point can further the overall satisfaction in your relationship.
4. Check the temperature of the room. Not all conflicts can be truly heard, received and resolved at the time you desire. If your partner is particularly stressed, tired, hungry, or dealing with outside issues his/her ability to truly hear you may be severely impaired. It could be most helpful to check in with your partner (when he/she is in a neutral mood) regarding a good time to have a dialogue by saying. “Babe I want to talk to you about something it’s not urgent at all I want to make sure, however, you are in the right frame of mind to hear this, can you tell me a good time that may work for you?”
5. State the problem as is. Let us say your partner has a habit of not replying to your text message. Instead of saying “you ignore my text all the time, I swear if it were your mother texting, you’d text her within a second of seeing her text!” Consider “I am increasingly feeling ignored when my text message goes unanswered, I am wondering if we can address this?” Once you have stated the facts, state your feelings. Use "I" messages to describe feelings of anger, hurt, or disappointment, frustration, etc. Avoid using "you" messages such as, "you make me so sick...."; instead, try, "I feel angry when …."
6. Create space for the other person to share their perspective. Remember that in a conflict there are different perspectives that are equally valid. And until you both understand each other point of views the conflict stays unresolved and unaddressed. Be careful not to interrupt, condescend, or use sarcastic language. Challenge yourself to genuinely hear your partner’s concerns and feelings. Rephrase what you heard in a way that lets your partner know you fully understand and ask your partner to do the same for you. Be mindful of using the word "But" while rephrasing, instead of "I understand you are feeling hurt but you know I didn't mean it" try "I understand now that when I yelled at you in front of your family you felt demeaned, criticized and embarrassed." Empathy is important while holding perspective in a conflict; you can practice empathy for your partner by trying to see their feelings and concerns as if the situation/event were happening to you. Ask yourself what would I be feeling if this were to be happening to me? What would I want my partner to know about my thoughts and feelings? It is possible to hold emotional space for your partner even if you fundamentally disagree.
7. Release through a genuine apology. A solid apology is often necessary to repair after a conflict. We all have a language of apology. Speaking each other’s language is important in having solid release and forgiveness in a relationship. The various types of language of apology are: expressing regret (saying a simple I’m sorry), accepting responsibility (accepting responsibility without excuses: “I am sorry I hurt you, I was wrong to yell at you”), making restitution (restoring by implementing a reparative action step – doing an act of service your partner may appreciate, offering your partner more downtime while taking care of most of the household chores, etc.) genuinely repenting (a sincere apology that verbalizes a desire and a plan as to not repeat the same behaviors to avoid continuous hurt) and requesting forgiveness (relinquishing control and moving pass your ego and clearly asking for forgiveness is a sign to your partner that the relationship matters to you). If you are unsure of your language of apology you and your partner can take the quiz at: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/apology-quiz/ feel free to openly discuss why your language is important to you.
8. Invite specific solutions. Problem Solving can only happen in a conflict when both parties feel heard and understood. Often couples rush towards problem solving without thoroughly understanding the underlying emotions at play in the conflict which then results in perpetual conflicts around the same issues. Brainstorm solutions together and discuss the benefits or down sides to each solution. Be careful not to belittle or judge the other persons suggestions, remember all solutions are welcomed without needing to rush to an immediate agreement.
9. Activate a spirit of compromise. Compromise means there is a win-win feeling in the end. Each person must feel heard and understood before there is a willingness to compromise. Decide what your flexible and inflexible areas are- You can compromise on flexible areas in compromise but if you attempt to compromise on your inflexible areas you will eventually start to feel resentful towards your partner. When you reach an agreement on a way forward, praise each other for what you appreciate about the other person’s willingness to listen, meet you in the middle and stay in it with you. Decide together on a time to check-in, discuss how things are working, and make changes to your agreement if necessary. If no solution has been reached regarding the original problem, schedule a time to revisit the issue and continue the discussion.
Remember that conflict resolution is a skill to be practiced. If you find yourself in perpetual conflicts that does not seem to be resolved, couples therapy may be the best option for you and your partner to have a licensed professional offer you an objective point of view paired with skill building for better communication. You can find a licensed mental health therapist experienced in couples counseling at: www.psychologytoday.com
If you are with a person that becomes aggressive, controls finances, attempts to manipulate or control your communication with others, isolate you from loved ones, invades your personal space in a menacing manner, kicks, shoves, punches, pinches or verbally demean you - we would recommend discussing these behaviors with a trained hotline specialist you can visit: https://www.thehotline.org for an anonymous conversation with a trained counselor who will not pressure you to leave your partner if you are not willing to or ready. You can call 1-800-799-7233 or if you are unable to talk you can text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.