In my last post, I talked about the skill of active listening. After we practice that skill, we'll become better listeners.
The next step is working on communicating our own needs with our partner. In a healthy relationship, each partner will feel comfortable opening dialogue about their needs. If they have needs that aren't being met, they feel safe expressing those needs. That should result in a discussion where the couple finds a mutually-beneficial solution to the problem.
In unhealthy relationships, one or both partners do not feel comfortable expressing their needs. It may be the result of patterns developed earlier in life. It may result in one or both partners' reactions. It's not uncommon for one partner to feel angry or inadequate. It is as if the discussion is a direct assault on their self-worth.
The trick is to find a way for each partner to express their feelings in a safe environment without blame, condescending comments, name-calling, or other hurt feelings. That will only inhibit future sharing, which ultimately dooms relationships.
I would recommend using the following method:
Step one: The partner (A) with the unmet need shares their concern with their partner (B.) Be calm and direct. Say exactly what need is not being met including how you'd like that need to be met.
Step two: Partner B will practice good active listening skills by rewording the need and reading the emotional state of Partner A. This should be done in a clam, relaxed manner with no judgment, commentary, or opinions.
Step three: Allow Partner A to correct any mistakes in Partner B's interpretation. Once both partners are clear about the exact nautre of the issue, move on.
Step four: Partner B will now give their opinion. How can this need be met? What would it take for that to happen?
Step five: Both Partner A and Partner B will brainstorm possible mutually-beneficial solutions that take both sides into consideration. Both parties need to be able to make concessions if needed. Continue until a solution is reached. At some point, the desire to be 'right" may supersede the desire to come to a conclusion. Remember, the goal is compromise, not "winning."
That's it. It's a simple process that's exceedingly effective. I highly recommend developing special "rules" when sharing needs to keep each other on task and prevent the situation from devolving into a bitter argument.
- Always remain respectful. Do not resort to yelling, name-calling, or bring up old unresolved issues.
- Keep emotions at bay. Emotions tend to cloud our judgment and create a situation where negative emotions escalate.
- Accept responsibility for the issues in your relationship. Realize most problems are the result of both partners' actions (or lack thereof.)
Just like any other relationship skill, this whole process takes process. Try it out on a few minor issues before tackling the big ones.
Happy conflict resolution!