EFFECTIVE CONFLICT RESOLUTION FOR COUPLES
Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. C.A.D.C.
Did you ever say “I am sorry” and felt a sense of discomfort. This signals that the cliché apology was not quite enough? There is a reason for that feeling of dissatisfaction. The reason is that our logical brain is telling us that something more is needed. The “something more” can be either words or behaviors. The intent is to correct the underlying experience of the hurt party. I organize the more appropriate response like this: The underlying conflict is experienced in one of two ways: The first is a passive-aggressive threat from one member of the couple to the other. This is termed the “perceived threat.” When the dominant partner uses this the intent is to flaunt the moral high ground by demonstrating how wrong the other partner is. The effect of this ill-conceived response is guilt, belittling or shame. When a partner is on the receiving end of a perceived threat it often triggers a sense of being intimidated.
The second underlying experience is when an aggrieved member of the couple perceives neglect. When this occurs there is no threat but the message is equally harmful. It says “I am indifferent to your feelings.” or “You don’t matter to me.” Or even “I don’t have time for this.” The remedy for perceived threats or perceived neglect is never a simple “I am sorry.” Instead use empathy to place yourself in the aggrieved partner’s position. This is often a desire to negate the perceived neglect. Ask yourself what is it that the partner needs for the matter to be satisfactorily resolved. Remember resolution, not necessarily a solution, is the goal.
When the conflict is a “perceived threat” respond beyond the cliché “I am sorry” and admit fault. For example respond with “I know that was wrong” or “That was insensitive of me.” Demonstrate personal respect with phrases like: “I should not have treated you that way. You deserve better.” When the aggrieved partner hears words of empathy, the threat of being dominated recedes. The emotional part of the brain disengages and the logical brain emerges.
When the conflict is a “perceived neglect” the poorest responses are “Okay fine.” Or “If you want me to say I am sorry, okay I am.” Rather consider that the opposite of neglect is “investment.” Overcome the “perceived neglect” with an offer of a gesture of affection. For example use an embrace or an extended hand. Invest with words like: “I am glad that you raise a good point.” Or “I am glad that we talked.” Remember that these are not solutions but rather a way to stop the emotional processing and use logic to guide the way toward the solution. If you use empathy instead of sympathy you can replicate the aggrieved partner’s experience. This data is valuable. Continue with “active listening” like “Are there any more points that you want to make?” or “If I have it correct you are saying…..” Active listening has a powerful remediation effect. Consider how much more effective, when addressing “perceived threat” or “perceived neglect,” when compared to vague “I am sorry.”
If the goal is to improve communication and not enjoy a sense of dominance by use of guilt and shame use:
When used effectively sincere words and behaviors often exceed the value of a simple apology. Moreover the danger of misunderstanding a threat or neglect is avoided.
Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. C.A.D.C. N.C.C
The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center
1930 Thoreau Dr. Suite 170
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Tel 847 253 9769