Thursday, November 18, 2010

Playing By The Rules

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”
-Max Lucado

Conflict itself isn't bad. In fact, it's good and will help you grow. The trick is in how it's managed. One question that I almost always get around to asking couples in crisis is "What are your rules for conflict?" Almost 100% of such couples tell me they have none. If I ask healthier coupes what their conflict rules are, they will often have one or two. My conclusion; healthier couples have rules for conflict and the healthiest couples actually follow them. Rules for conflict tend exist to protect the relationship and keep anger in conflict from getting too high.

So . . . if you are in couple, what are your rules for conflict? Every couple is different and so every couple needs different rules. Three to five rules are enough. Spending half an hour coming up with a list is an excellent use of quality time with the person you love. Set some time aside at a time that both agree to and do the following:

1. Reflect for awhile on this question; "What are the top 1, 2, or 3 things that really hurt me/tick me off when we fight?" Almost everyone can come up with these things fairly easily. Some examples include:
-interrupting me
-swearing or cutting me down
-bring up things from the past that were already dealt with
-bringing up a new subject before dealing with the first one
-raising your voice (or using "that" tone)
-not giving me space when I ask for it/pursuing me when I need space

2. From these things you can find something to make into a specific rule. For instance:
-No interrupting (if someone does and it's pointed out, they have to apologize)
-No bring bringing up new subjects until the first one is finished.

3. After both people suggest a potential rule or two, they are discussed. Both people must agree to them or else they can't be part of the rules. Then, each member of the couple makes a commitment to the other person to honor these rules, no matter what. Two wrongs don't make a right and even if the other person is breaking all the rules, the other person needs to honor them. These rules have to be set in stone. They are not wishes, they are are rules to protect the relationship from harm.

4. Begin observing your rules. Be patient with each other as new habits (like observing rules during conflict) take time to become consistent. During this phase it is so important to not rebel against your partner if they slip up and break a rule. You must be committed to these rules no matter what. You can't control the other person - only yourself. If both people slip up, it's not the end of the world, they just need to debrief what happened and recommit themselves. If one or both people can't consistently honor their own rules, then sitting down with a counselor might be necessary.

Jobina and I had to sit down a few years into our marriage and come up with some rules. We didn't really know what we were doing and it took awhile, but now the rules hardly ever are brought up because they have become a natural part of lives. Of course we each have our slips every now and then but overall angry conflict is a much rarer occurrence. Combined with following the Policy of Joint agreement (see the link) rules for conflict really reduce arguements and shorten conflict - with better results. I'm curious to hear other people's experiences with rules for conflict and also to hear any good rule that you have heard of or use. Share the wealth!

No comments: