This is an area that took my wife Lisa and I years to figure out — and we still are finding ways to improve this facet of our relationship.
Personally, I’m a believer that in most cases you need to take a little time.
My preference was take a walk or go work out to break up a heated debate or argument, and take some time to think logically and cool down. Time and distance, I believe, can help calmer heads prevail.
In the past — and to this day —
Lisa would prefer to lock the door, thrash it out to get it done and move on. Those styles, natural to us, don’t naturally work together very well, and we’ve both had to make compromises.
We’re much better at this than we were at the beginning, but it’s a constant work in progress.
It’s tremendously helpful if both parties go into disagreements with the proper mindset.
My mentors have shared with me that successful relationships are built on serving the other (again, however, this only works if both hold this mindset).
Partners with a “What can I give?” mindset will both come out ahead every time over couples who hold a “What can I get?” attitude.
It can be hard to hold this outlook when tensions are high and tempers are flaring, but if this attitude is part of our everyday life, from my experience, we are far more likely to win with our partner — instead of winning over our partner.
As one of my friends and mentors once said, “Learn to disagree well and choose your battles wisely.”
Years ago, when I was working with the Saturn Corporation, the company brought in a speaker who talked with us about conflict resolution.
The points he made during that seminar have stuck with me, and are effective in many different situations.
For me, however, the lessons seem to fit with martial disagreements most of all.
He shared with us six core behaviors we tend to use when faced with conflict — behaviors that do us or our partners no good. While we might not display all six — we all have our “favorite” behavior we tend to fall back on — most of us are familiar with our natural impulses. Here are six of the most common behaviors that occur during conflict:
- Walk Out and Storm Away — When things get heated, we unilaterally stop the discussion, possibly after saying something we’ll later regret, and walk away, leaving our partner alone with another reason to be angry.
- The Silent Treatment — The argument stops, but we both know it’s not over. It hangs over and festers as we refuse to talk with our partner about it.
- “You’re Wrong/I’m Right” — This mindset may look like the argument is over, especially if we don’t say those words, but if we still hold them as truth, this delay in resolving the conflict allows it to grow further.
- Labeling the Other — This is the name-calling phase. “You’re stupid,” “You’re selfish,” “You’re always/never…,” etc. This is where the original conflict morphs into a different argument, one that is harder to repair.
- Venting to the Wrong People — This is usually venting to friends who are sure to take our side, and will help us vilify our partner. They don’t have our best interest at heart as a mentor would, and they’ll give us the “moral authority” by saying we’re right, even if we’re not.
- Vicious Attacks — This is the worst and most unfair stage, where we get vulgar and cruel with our attacks. In the worst cases, the attacks become physical. These attacks are designed to cause as much pain as possible.
So, why do we display these behaviors to someone we love?
We believe it’s because we’re angry and we’re afraid.
Deep down — sometimes so deep that we’re not even consciously aware of it — we fear that we can’t be loved.
We fear that we might...
that's right - have chosen the wrong partner.
We fear that we’re inadequate, that we’re not enough to make our partner happy. Some of these fears may come from childhood or perhaps from past relationships.
Whatever the cause, we all can act “crazy” from time to time; we each just bring our own “brand” of crazy to the table.
Knowing that these core, negative behaviors are always close at hand when conflicts inevitably arise, my mentors have developed better responses to use instead. We can train ourselves to be better. Better ways to resolve conflicts are:
- Stay and Solve — We take the time to work things out with our partner and find a solution. If we need a break, when our emotions are running too hot and our logic might fail and we might say something we will regret, we tell our partner we need a time out. We should be sure to let them know, however, that we still are committed to working this conflict out because we love and respect them.
- Ask Questions — We should seek to understand where our partner is coming from. What we see as conflict might simply be a misunderstanding. We ask why they feel the way they do and get their side of the issue. We seek to understand so we can be understood. Even if we still don’t agree after hearing what’s on their mind, we’ll at least be working on the same problem together. Robert Kelly shared a wise mindset with me many years ago: “Chris,” he said, “in most cases, there are three sides to every conflict: Person A’s point of view, Person B’s point of view, and the truth or resolution usually lies in between.”
- The World’s Not Black and White — This is when we ask ourselves, “Why can’t we both be right?” Sometimes, we’ll just have to agree to disagree, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re two separate individuals who won’t agree on everything all the time. That’s actually a good thing. I’ve found that the people who choose their battles wisely and not “major” on every minor issue have truly learned how to disagree well. As long as we agree that we both love each other and have the other’s best interest at heart, that’s what matters.
- Focus on Specific Behaviors — Instead of labeling our partner as a villain, we focus on the specific behaviors that hurt us, and why they hurt us. “When you did this, this is how (your actions/behavior/words) made me feel,” rather than, “You always….” We owe it to our partner to tell them how what they did or what they said affected us, and learn what their intention was in the first place.
- Go to a Trusted Mentor — Here, we ask someone who holds us accountable to be our best self, rather than someone who will blindly take our side in all things. Someone who will challenge us can help us organize our thoughts, and will have the best interest of both us and our partner at heart. They’ll encourage us to go back and talk, and to do so in a way where we won’t be ashamed of our behavior down the road.
- We Are Made or Broken in Conflict — We all need to learn how to navigate these moments of conflict. These will be the moments where we keep or lose the love of our lives. We need to learn from past experiences and find ways to communicate when we disagree in such a way where we still are listening to each other. For instance, I’ve found that — when used correctly and appropriately — humor is a good way to lighten the mood and defuse a tense situation to keep it from escalating beyond our ability to remain logical. Whatever works in our unique relationships, the willingness of both of us to disagree well and keep each other’s well-being in mind will make the difference.
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About the Author: Chris Saraceno is the Vice President/Partner of the Kelly Automotive Group and Co-Founder of www.dealerElite.com ,Chris is constantly sharing best business practices through speaking engagements, conventions, articles, blogs etc..