Stay tuned… Christine will post content related to grief process, anxiety management, communication and more. If interested in a specific topic, please contact her with your suggestions.
Conflict Resolution Files – Decisions, decisions, decisions
posted: Nov. 15, 2023.
Below is one of the articles in a series on conflict resolution geared towards couples. Each one is stand alone and can be read in any order but consider reading the others in the series for a well-rounded approach to conflict resolution.
Some conflict resolution concepts focus on how to resolve issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the workplace, unresolved conflict is like a cancer that spreads discord and drags down morale fast, so a timely remedy is desired. However, when applied to interpersonal relationships, specifically, romantic ones, the quickest solution is not necessarily the best for the health of the relationship.
You heard right: the quickest resolution is not always the best. In fact, resolving some conflicts too fast actually causes more issues later on in the relationship.
Here’s a scenario: couple decides to give their bathroom a new coat of paint as a facelift. Partner 1 wants a light, neutral color. Partner 2 wants something more dramatic and darker. To accommodate, P1 agrees to P2’s preference. P1 is taking a hit for the team, right? P2 is happy with the color and every time P2 enters said bathroom, they are elated. P2 has no idea that P1 has a vastly different reaction when entering the same bathroom. In fact, P1 detests the color and every morning P1 is fighting resentment for giving in too soon. Over time, P1’s resentment turns into moodiness and they pick fights with P2. Eventually the partners drift apart emotionally and choose to go their separate ways.
All over paint color.
Tragic, right? Unlikely? Maybe, maybe not. Some fights stem from uncommunicated misgivings and stew for some time before the final conflict erupts. When that happens, it’s less about the current situation and more about a history of unspoken compromises. Worse, couples who avoid clearly communicating their needs to one another often don’t even know what they’re fighting about. They just know they’ve lost that loving feeling for their partner and have come to believe that their partner is the problem.
Decision making of any kind is one of the more common areas of conflict with couples. In my counseling practice I hear it all the time. In an attempt to accommodate, one partner will “give in” as their contribution to the solution. Problem is their partner might be oblivious to the sacrifice it took to get there. This is where the art of negotiation plays a major role. When two people are giving their input on what they each want, consider the points below. I’ll use the acronym SIDE to remind couples they’re on the same side and making decisions are opportunities to grow together.
SIGNIFICANCE – Interdependence – Deference – Effect
Significance. How significant is the decision being made for each one? Is this decision less important to one of the individuals? Does each one understand what factors are at play that make THIS decision so important to them? If they don’t, then some exploration/ analysis is necessary to discover what’s really going on. If possible, delay the decision until each one can clearly articulate the significance for themselves as well as their partner.
Interdependence. Interdependence is mutual dependence upon each other. It includes agreement on how to balance autonomy vs. independence in decision making. What types of decisions are okay to make unilaterally vs. jointly? Does either one believe they should have authority to make decisions without their partner’s prior knowledge? Does one feel they should confer on every decision? Where did each one get their ideas on how couples make decisions? Does one or both feel stifled if they have to run their decisions by their partner for input/approval?
Deference. Partners should trade off yielding to each other’s preferences. How often does each one feel they are deferring to their partner? Does one feel like they are frequently the one to “give the right of way”? Is anyone holding back their opinion for fear of conflict or being inconvenient, then later resenting the other for the decision agreed to?
Effect. What effect does this decision have for each person? Will one be more impacted by the decision than the other? If both are equally effected, how do you rank the magnitude of the results for each person? Play out some scenarios for each one so everyone sees what the other might be dealing with on a long-term basis.
These are some thoughts to stimulate conversation when it comes to making decisions. While some couples are adept at discussing these questions, others don’t even consider how decisions can either enhance or hinder emotional intimacy in the relationship.
Follow through on decisions made – don’t backpedal!
When dialoguing on decisions that clearly have an effect for each person, the next step is how to follow through on decisions made. Once you agree to something, do not harbor ill feelings towards your partner if you didn’t “get your way.” Don’t agree to something you sense will cause resentment later. There is an option where each one can be satisfied with an alternate solution even if that solution isn’t what each one thought of originally. Remember this is a UNION of two blending their ideas together for the benefit of BOTH.
Be okay with delaying a decision or allowing an issue to remain unresolved for a period of time. But make sure you both agree that you are deferring the resolution until you both can feel good about what you come up with. Of course, if there is time sensitivity, you’ll have to press into the process so you can move forward. Some people are more comfortable delaying decisions while others feel better once a decision is made – even if it means they go along with what someone else wants. The problem with this is that the one who defers ends up blaming their partner for not considering what they want when they chose not to disclose their preferences.
Be aware of your partner’s sensitive areas and adjust accordingly
A final note on using effective communication when resolving conflicts. There are ways to approach sensitive subjects with your partner without sparks flying. The longer you are in relationship, the more you will bump up against each other’s sensitivities. When your partner inadvertently hits a button, try to give them the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume they are out to hurt you. Discuss ways you would like your partner to bring up a sensitive topic so that you can remain open and curious about what’s being talked about. Do not use communication as a means of manipulation or attack. If you sense your partner IS manipulating or you are constantly under attack, then all bets are off. Manipulation is never a part of healthy relationship. The best remedy is distance, whether that’s ending the relationship or demanding space until your partner gets help.
The list of categories that can spark conflicts seem endless and often include some form of decision making. Topics like job changes, parenting, family gatherings/holidays, vacation expectations, finances, household duties, socializing with others, living arrangements, plans for the future, religious or political beliefs are all examples of what may cause a disagreement. Blending your life with another person can sometimes feel like you’re navigating land mines, but take heart. Learning to identify your perspective and communicate that clearly to your partner will lay the ground work for resolving conflicts. The road you travel together can be a satisfying one when you learn to work together.
If you need help implementing how to stay on the same SIDE when differences occur, contact me for a couples session and I’ll be happy to assist you in charting a new course.