Updated: Aug 12, 2022
After getting married the first conflict that I had was 3 days into the honeymoon. Yup, just 3 days. But there we were fighting over whether to stop and ask for directions. I can't make this stuff up! Before the smartphone era, this is a fight most couples had. I wanted to stop and ask for directions to a nice restaurant and my new husband insisted that the gas station attendant wouldn't give a good recommendation.
Most likely we were both right. We didn't stop to ask and so we will never know. And that dinner at Golden Corral is still a humbling story we tell today. We went a few rounds to try and persuade each other that we were right. We weren't careful with our words. Our pride took over and we both thought we were right and didn't want to give in. We didn't stop to wonder WHY we were fighting over this or what it might really be all about for us. But it did ruin the evening, and that was too bad.
LOVE as a Conflict Skill
Four principles help build up your conflict skills so you can be a master at conflicts.
L stands for Listen.
If either of us had said "Ok, ok. Tell me what you think about getting directions and this dinner. Let me hear what you are thinking" we could have avoided some pain. When you notice conflict has started up- the skill at being able to listen to your partner's point of view without insisting on sharing your own ideas. That's a relationship master. This skill can be learned with practice. Listening is a skill and anyone can learn it.
O stands for Observe.
In the middle of a conflict, it's really easy for the "fog of war" to settle in. The fog of war is a very real phenomenon when conflict is underway. The defenses go up. The offenses go out like porcupine quills in attack formation. The relationship skill to develop is to be like a general at the top of a mountain who can observe what is going on. Stop for a second. Perhaps you could say "Give me a second here. I feel like I'm losing perspective and I don't want to fight. I think I am observing our defenses are up and we aren't in a good place. Do you see that too?"
If you are excellent at conflict you can repeatedly check-in and observe the conversation. Is the conflict escalating? Then you might need to take a break, or cease-fire, so you can let your defenses down and remember you do love each other. Is the conflict de-escalating and moving towards a truce? Congratulate yourselves! That is terrific!
V stands for Value your Mate.
There is a Proverb (31:10) that says if you find a wife (applies to husbands too) of good character, that is worth more than rubies or jewels. You might remember back when you found your mate, out of all the people in the world. He/she was worthy. You saw all the good traits and how good your partner is. In the middle of conflict, couples often cease to treat each other as valuable.
You might have a conversation (not during a conversation, but over a nice dinner) about what can communicate value and great-worth to each other. Valuing and refusing to de-value each other during conflict is an important relationship skill. If this is very difficult for you then some skill-building in distress tolerance and being a non-anxious presence in stressful situations may be helpful to you.
E stands for Evaluate the underlying relationship interests.
Everyone has underlying relationship interests that are playing out during conflicts and are often outside of our awareness. Underneath those conflicts are often unrecognized and unexplored relationship needs. If they can be brought into awareness and shared vulnerably the conflict can turn into a moment to strengthen your bond. The five relationships needs we describe are:
Connection: To feel attached, connected, and seen by people we are in a relationship with.
Autonomy: To make decisions for ourselves and be trusted that our decisions are good.
Security: To have a sense of safety, and that basic needs like food, shelter, safety and care will be met.
Significance: The life we are living, and our purpose in it, are important and significant. I matter to you.
Growth: That life is moving towards growth, relationally, spiritually, psychologically, & personally.
This intervention is part of the conflict resolution skills unit within Hope Focused Couple Counseling.
Hope Focused Counseling
Intake and Feedback/ Conceptualization
Stabilization of conflict cycles (if needed)
Increasing bond by exploring patterns
Increasing bond by communication and conflict resolution skill building
Increasing bond by repair, forgiving and reconciling
Consolidating gains and planning for long-term future
by Dr. Jennifer Ripley, Ph.D., Regent University Hughes Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of Charis Institute