In the last post, we looked at the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, those negative communication styles and ways of behaving that are toxic to the health and longevity of relationships. Even the most enviable of relationships have conflict. It is not the absence of conflict that indicates a successful relationship. Rather, it is how that conflict is managed. Notice I say “manage” versus “resolve”. That is an intentional choice of word that I will address in a future blog.
So, how do these Masters of Relationship manage conflict? Well, they do a few differently than the Disasters of Relationship. Rather than allowing the Four Horsemen to gallop recklessly through their relationship, they employ their antidotes.
The antidote for criticism is to focus, without blame, on a specific complaint rather than attack the character of your partner. Use “I” statements to convey your feelings, then express a positive want or need.
- Criticism: “We always spend the weekend doing what you want. You are so selfish.”
- Antidote: “I feel like my interests are unimportant. I would like to figure out a way for both of us to have input into our weekend plans.”
The antidote for contempt is to show up verbally and behaviorally in a respectful way when engaging with your partner. Neutralize contempt by completely doing away with exhibitions of your perceived superiority.
- Contempt: “Only an idiot would see things the way you do.”
- Antidote: “We see this differently, and you are as entitled to your point of view as I am to mine” . . . conveyed neutrally and respectfully.
The antidote for defensiveness is to accept responsibility for as much of the conflict as is genuinely yours. Also, it is very helpful to try to validate your partners perspective in a conflict, even if it is different than yours.
- Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we are always late.”
- Antidote: “I need to be aware that it sometimes takes me longer to get ready than I realize.” Or “I can see why you are frustrated that we are late because we had a hard time getting out of the house with all of the kids in tow.”
The antidote for stonewalling is to practice physiological self soothing when you are feeling emotionally hijacked or exhausted. A quick way to know if you are in hijack mode is to take your pulse. If it is above 95 bpm, you are experiencing diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). In this state, you lose access to your internal resources that help you successfully navigate conflict resolution. In fact, you are cognitively impaired.
- Stonewalling: “I’m out. This is not up for discussion any longer”.
- Antidote: “Right now I can’t hear you because I am upset. I need to take a walk to clear my head and then we can pick this conversation back up.” Another effective antidote is to simply focus on your breath, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly.
In our next post, we will circle back to a more in depth exploration of the remaining rules for fighting fair.