“I just don’t understand what she wants!” is a commonly repeated phrase amongst frustrated men endeavouring to please the woman of their dream. Yet this complaint is reduced to insignificance compared to the amount of times I hear women comment: “How could he be so selfish? Doesn’t he have any idea how that makes me feel? Doesn’t he care?”
Solving relationship conflict here becomes more challenging when we understand that these common complaints are not exclusive to ‘highly disfunctional couples’. They are not typical only of couples where a man may genuinely be evaluated to be indifferent (thus justifying her complaint) nor of couples where the woman may have more unresolved inner conflicts than the Gulf war. Time and time again I hear these words from people who have done some basic self-development, who are genuinely in love with their partner and who actually care about pleasing the other party. So what can help couples in the process of solving relationship conflict once and for all?
Here are three basic tips that may seem to be so basic in the process of solving conflict they may often be overlooked. Yet following through on these will a) avoid conflict b) diffuse it when it sparks off unexpected and c) minimize its impact when one of the two parties isn’t engaging in the peacemaking process.
Step 1: Understand why you REALLY do the things you do
That means understanding not just your conscious reasons but which human needs are driving a behaviour and which needs are being satisfied by reacting in a particular way. Whether we use Mazlow’s hierarchy of human needs or Tony Robbins, humanistic psychology understands that if our basic human needs are not met we will emotionally wither and die. We will merely exist rather than live a life of joy and satisfaction. We have a need for love and connection, we have a need for recognition or significance. We want the stabiliy that certainty in our lives can give us while at the same time we also crave for variety. These and other needs can be met in numerous ways but what we often fail to consider is that these needs are the reason behind: why you may have yelled at your partner in public, why you argued a point until being red in the face–even though you don’t care much for the topic; why you became disproportionately upset when your partner found your best friend’s joke incredibly funny. And even, why you may have cried yourself to sleep when the woman of your dreams asked you to take the garbage out the very moment you shared your best artistic work.
There are underlying reasons why we do the things we do. Most people are hardly aware that such reasons exist–let alone be able to identify them accurately and match their behaviour to the specific human need driving it. Having a therapist, coach or counsellor help you identify which are your personal three primordial human needs can be worth gold as you then look in hindsight and genuinely understand why conflict started in the first place.
This will help you apply step two.
Step 2: Understand why your partner does the things s/he does
Don’t assume. When she says “You ALWAYS leave the kitchen a mess with your late night snacks after I’ve cleaned up! Won’t you ever learn?” you may find yourself getting into the technicalities of “But this is the first time all month that I’ve left stuff in the sink?” Yet, if you knew that her need for love and connection hadn’t been met, nor her need for certainty, nor her need for significance you may understand that in reality the issue… HER issue was: “I feel you don’t appreciate how hard I work around the house. It seems like you don’t really care about how tired I am after work. Why aren’t my feelings important to you?” Understanding the human need driving the behaviour can alter YOUR emotional response to the situation thus avoiding or diffusing conflict. Solving relationship conflict requires and understanding of the human needs.
Step 3: Choose from a PRE-PLANNED gamma of positive emotional responses
Think back to some of the typical conflicts you’ve experienced in your relationship. Can you think of the most common responses you’ve dished out which practically started world war three? Can you think of times when the second the words came out of your mouth you thought: Hhmm. That was a pretty bad response. I know exactly what’s coming!
If you could FREEZE the moment every time conflict arose you would discover that contrary to popular belief you don’t just do something because “s/he did this to me”. You actually have a whole gamma of reactions available to you. But you need to sit down in the cool of the night or the calm of the day, away from conflict, and actually analyse which options you actually have. What words, tone of voice and body language is likely to produce the best possible result once conflict has started? Be outcome oriented in your interaction–rather than analytical. For most employees, the concept of being “proactive” has been used and abused until the term lost its meaning. Essentially, being proactive meant “choosing our emotional response”. Sadly it has been so demeaned as a word to push people to get more sales that the very core of the concept has been ignored. (I remember when first starting in the bank and being pushed to make sales commenting to our manager at a sales meeting that seeing he was urging all of us to be proactive that perhaps he could take the lead in setting the example of being proactive in chooosing his emotional response–whether staff reached their sales targets or not) This concept has a major role in relationships.
Chances are most women and some men do a lot of this third step INSTINCTIVELY yet I am suggesting that you plan out a gamma of positive emotional responses and rehearse matching these to potential repeat events in the household. Then when conflict arises you can choose one of your POSITIVE responses as opposed to the usual reaction that will fuel the conflict. Preparation and strategy is the key.
So try the above three for 30 days. To quote Stephen Covey from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, pursue Habit 5: Seek first to understand and then to be understood. To do that effectively you must understand your own behaviour and the reasons for it.
At Creator of Change Life Coaching people are taught to understand the order of their six human needs and how these relate to solving relationship conflict: www.creatorofchange.com
Choosing your emotional response from a gamma of pre-planned and rehearsed positive responses will save you many a late nights of arguing and will give you the peace of mind to just smile and think “Is it REALLY worth arguing about?”
Happy conflict resolution!