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CommunicationConflict Resolution

Conflict is Inevitable, Combat is Optional

Today we’re discussing conflict resolution. We’re not going to teach you how to fight, but we’re going to talk about fighting fair and how to eliminate fights – maybe even before they happen.

Let’s start by using an analogy of the trapeze. You know, those trapeze artists that we all see in the circus? When you see them up there, they have a safety net because mistakes happen. Being an expert at your craft is not worth dying for and relationships are no different. In our number one relationship with our spouse, if we have solid, unwavering commitment, that is the safety net under our relationship. Just like the trapeze artist who’s up there trying difficult things, because relationships are messy, they’re dirty, but they’re also wonderful. 

When we have that solid commitment that’s undergirding the relationship, it gives us the safety net to know that no issue is going to dissolve this relationship. We’re not going to allow or let anything derail us. We can feel safe and comfortable approaching a discussion, and really going after anything. If you don’t feel that way about your relationship, that’s an indicator there may be an opportunity to strengthen that commitment.

We have this in our relationship. And we hope you do too. We’re going to give you some tools and skills to work on. They’ll help you be more effective in conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is a skill. It’s learned. You’ve got to practice it. You have to develop it. You have to grow it and learn how to use it.

We’ve learned that there are three states in every relationship, and you’re in one of these three states at all times:


  1. State #1 “Leaning in”: you’re turning towards your spouse and you are loving and open. 
  2. State #2 “Leaning away”: you’re actively disengaging from your spouse. 
  3. State #3 “Leaning against”: you’re hunkering down, preparing for a fight.

You’ve got to be in state #1 “leaning in” to effectively address conflict –  if you’re in one of those other two states you really can’t resolve anything. It’s also important to be aware of emotional disengagement. This is when your partner turns away and does not even engage at all. It is a scary place to be in a relationship. It’s dangerous and actually a predictor of divorce. 

What happens when somebody is emotionally disengaged? What’s the risk there? What’s the danger? What’s happening? 

They’re not engaging at all. They’re refusing to do any of the things just mentioned. They’re not leaning in and they’re not leaning away. They’re turning away and refusing to participate. And then dangerous things happen because we all attach to something. And when we’re not attached to each other, we will find something else to attach to. And in most cases, it does not bode very well for our relationship. 

Is everything solvable in a relationship? Can we solve all the issues and have a clean slate? 

Problems are inevitable. Perpetual problems are always going to be there. It’s the manner in which we deal with them that’s important. And in many cases, we learn how to accept them. We have to learn how to manage our world to minimize those conflicts and those perpetual problems. There has been research done by The Gottman Institute that revealed that only 31% of issues are actually solvable. That means 69% of perpetual problems are going to continue to reoccur.

So what do we do? How do we handle those things we can’t solve? 

Good relationships are characterized by a dialogue, rather than coming to gridlock with each other. You’ve got to keep talking and communicating. When partners can learn to accept humor, affection, and discussion, rather than gridlock, then they’re going to be a little more successful at resolving this problem. 

It’s also about understanding. We have to seek to understand what’s going on or why the other spouse feels the way that they do. What’s motivating them? Where did it come from? Why is it important to them? Conflict resolution is not about changing our spouse’s thoughts. It’s not about one person winning and getting to change the other’s feelings on something. It’s not about us convincing them to change.

You’re not going to convince anyone to change. What you can do is seek to understand the other person better and understand why they’re having those feelings or those thoughts, or why this problem continues to rear its ugly head. Maybe they’re being triggered by something that happened in their past or have something that came out of their family of origin that they’re dealing with. 

Marriage is a lot of compromises. Remember that it’s a Win-Win. It’s got to be good for you. And it’s got to be good for your partner. And most importantly, it’s got to be good for your relationship.

Until next time. Remember, happily ever after doesn’t just happen. It’s on purpose.