Conflict Resolution and Communication in Marriage

RORY C. REID MSW, Counseling, Education, and Research ____________________________________________________________________________ This address was given at the 2004 Family Expo Conference ©2004 by Brigham Young University, Family Expo All rights reserved. For further information write: Family Expo, 136 Harman Continuing Education Building, Provo, Utah 84602. (801) 422-3559 E-mail: Home page: ____________________________________________________________________________

Conflict Resolution and Communication in Marriage


Counseling, Education, and Research

What is Conflict?
“Conflict is any situation where your concerns or desires differ from another person’s.”
Kenneth W. Thomas, Ralph H. Kilmann

Every family has problems and challenges. But successful families try to work together toward solutions instead of resorting to criticism and contention.
President Ezra T. Benson, Ensign, Aug. 1993, 4

How Do Conflicts Occur?
Misunderstandings: when one partner doesn’t say explicitly, with adequate specificity, what he or she thought or felt, and the other made assumptions rather than asking clarifying questions. Defending Turf: When boundaries are violated people are offended and their quills become erect!

How Do Conflicts Occur?
Not Feeling Heard: Listener is stone walling or using ineffective listening skills. Hurt Feelings: Toxic comments that convey insult, criticism, blame, or fault finding. Escalations: Insufficient climate control.

Common Subjects of Conflict
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. In-laws Division of labor Money and time Cultural differences Religious differences Parenting Sex Drugs or alcohol Weight and appearance

Conflict Styles

Competitive Style
When a person uses a competitive style, he /she tends to be very assertive & interested in getting his or her own way, approaching the conflict in a very forceful way with not much interest in cooperating with other people. People use this style when the issue is very important to the person, and the person has a big stake in getting his way. Or when the person has the authority to make the decision, and it seems clear that this is the one best way. Or when decisions have to be made fast and the person has power to make it. Or when the person feels he has nothing to lose. Or when he is in an emergency situation where immediate action/decision is needed. Or when the person can't get a group to agree.

Avoidant Style
This approach happens when a person does not assert himself, don't cooperate or avoid the conflict entirely. This can be a good approach to use if one is dealing with a difficult person or when there is no urgency to make a decision. Avoidance can mean to others as 'running away' from the issue but sometimes evasion /delay can be appropriate and constructive.

Avoidance May Be Useful When:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Tensions are too high, one needs to cool down The issue is not important, too trivial to pursue The person might be in a bad mood & get upset or not deal with the issue properly The person may not win the conflict anyway The person needs more time to gather information or obtain assistance from others The situation may not be that simple & difficult to change and it would be a wasted effort tackling it The person has little power to resolve the situation or get it resolved in a desirable way The person feels that others are capable of resolving it There is danger in trying to deal with the situation at the moment, because bringing the conflict out into the open might make the situation worse

Accommodative Style
This approach happens when one works cooperatively with the other person, without trying to assert your own concerns. This may be used when the outcome of the situation is very important to the other person but of less important to you. Accommodation can be a little bit like avoidance, because you can use it to delay finding a true resolution to a problem. But the main difference is that in accommodation, you cooperate: you face the situation and agree to do what the other person wants.

Accommodation May Be Useful When:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. When one does not care about what really happens When one would like to keep the peace & harmony with others When one finds it more important to keep the relationship than to get the matter decided his way When one realizes that the outcome of the matter is more important to the other person When one acknowledges that he is wrong & the other person is right When one has little power or small chances of winning When one feels that the other person will learn from the situation if one goes along with what the other person wants.

Compromising Style
In the compromising / sharing approach, one gives up a little of what he wants to get the rest of what he wants and the other party is also willing to dot he same. This is done by making exchanges, concessions and bargaining to come up with a compromise solution both parties agree to. This may be like collaboration to some extent but compromise happens on a more superficial level than collaboration. One is not searching for underlying needs & interests as in collaboration.

Compromising May Be Useful When:
1. When both parties have same amount of power & are committed to mutually exclusive goals 2. When a quick resolution is needed because of time pressure or because it is more economical and efficient this way 3. When a temporary resolution is needed or one could benefit from a short-term gain 4. When all other styles have not worked 5. When goals are not really important & one is willing to modify the goals 6. When a compromise will make a relationship or agreement work

Collaborative Style
In this style one gets actively into the conflict, asserting what he wants while still trying to cooperate with the other person. If one has the time & the issue is important enough this is a good way to find a win-win situation. The key to collaboration that works would be to take time to look at underlying interests & needs, in the hope of finding some way of meeting the needs of both parties

Collaborative Good When:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. When the issues are very important to both or all parties & no one is willing to let go entirely When one has a close, continuing, interdependent relationship with the other party When one has time to deal with the problem When both parties are aware of the problem & clear about what they want When both parties are willing to put some thought & work into finding a solution When both parties have the skills to express concerns and listen to what others have to say When all the parties involved have the similar amount of power or are willing to put aside power differences in order to work together as equals in coming up with a solution

Obstacles to Conflict Resolution
Frozen Thinking Your ideas are fixed and your mind is closed to new information that does not confirm what you already believe. Flexible Thinking Your mind is open to new ideas. You curiously take in new information, even when it seems to challenge what you have believed to be true.

Obstacles to Conflict Resolution continued…
Frozen Thinking You see yourself as right and different opinions are wrong. You disparage other points of view and think in terms of either/or. Either I am right or you are right. Flexible Thinking You look for how you can be right and others with different opinions can be right as well.

Obstacles to Conflict Resolution continued…
Frozen Thinking You use inflammatory language to highlight your rightness and your partners wrongness. Flexible Thinking You keep your language neutral, describing what you see without describing your partner in words with negative connotations.

Obstacles to Conflict Resolution continued…
Frozen Thinking If you are not getting what you want, you resort to criticism and blame. You lack insight with respect to your part in difficulties. Flexible Thinking If difficulties arise, you are willing to look at what you yourself might do differently to improve the dialogue or the problem situation.

Problem with Frozen Thinking
It means you are stuck. Impairs information gathering. It provokes irritation. The non frozen partner is likely to become frustrated by the futility of trying to convey information about his or her concerns. Frozen thinking impairs bilateral listening. It makes healthy dialogue impossible.

Resolving Conflict: Ground Rules
In order for effective communication and conflict resolution to occur, there must be an understanding about rules that will facilitate or impair the process.

Helpful Suggestions for Conflict Resolution
1. Express your initial positions 2. Explore the underlying concerns 3. Determine mutually acceptable solutions

Express Your Initial Positions
Say it, don’t hint it. Symmetry: Did both of you express your positions? Summarize by defining the problem in a no-fault, umbrella way that includes both and blames neither.

Explore the Underlying Concerns: Joint List
Symmetry: Exploring equally all parties concerns Short Segments: Long speeches or concise statements? Specifics: Are we talking in generalities or specifics? Summarize: Have we put together a summary, listing all the concerns each of us has, as a bridge to finding solutions?

Determine Mutually Acceptable Solutions
Create solution options by adding modifications to your original positions and by devising completely new options. Think in terms of solution sets, taking into account all of the concerns. Summarize the plan, to be certain you both leave with the same understanding. Ask “Are there any pieces of this that still feel unfinished?”

Gospel Doctrine
“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1). “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another.” (D&C 136:23.) “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Ne. 11:29).

Patience with the Process
Couples should be patient as each learns to use new skills, much like the child with training wheels is learning to ride a bike.

RORY C. REID, MSW Counseling, Education, and Research
Part-Time Faculty Instructor

Email: Internet: Ph: 801.688.7717

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