Six Ground Rules for Handling
Conflict in Relationships
New Life Ministries
Set ground rules to make negotiation pleasant and safe.
Most couples view negotiation as a trip to the torture chamber.
Thats because their efforts are usually fruitless, and they
come away from the experience battered and bruised. Who wants
to negotiate when it brings nothing but disappointment and pain?
So before you begin to negotiate, set some basic ground rules
to make sure that you both enjoy the experience.
Ground Rule 1. Try to be pleasant and cheerful throughout
Its fairly easy to start discussing an issue while in a
good mood. But negotiations can open a can of worms, so be prepared
for negative emotional reactions. Your partner may begin to feel
uncomfortable about something you say. In fact he or she may suddenly
inform you that there will be no further discussion. Try to be
as positive and cheerful as you can be, especially if your partner
says something that offends you.
Ground Rule 2. Put safety first. Dont make demands,
show disrespect, or become angry when you negotiate, even if your
partner makes demands, shows disrespect, or becomes angry with
Once the cat is out of the bag and you have told your partner
what is bothering you or what you want, you have entered one of
the most dangerous phases of negotiation. If your partners
initial reaction hurts your feelings, you are tempted to retaliate.
Your Taker is very persuasive at this point, and unless you make
a special effort to resist its advice, your negotiation will turn
into an argument. But if you can keep each other safe, you will
be able to use your intelligence to help you make the changes
you both need.
Ground Rule 3. If you reach an impasse and dont seem
to be getting anywhere, or if one of you is starting to make demands,
show disrespect, or become angry, stop negotiating and come back
to the issue later.
Just because you cant resolve a problem at a particular
point in time doesnt mean you cant find an intelligent
solution in the future. Dont let an impasse prevent you
from giving yourself a chance to think about the issue. Let it
incubate for a while, and youll be amazed what your mind
can do when the issue comes up later.
Ground Rule 4. Identify the problem from both perspectives.
Once you have set ground rules that guarantee a safe and enjoyable
discussion, you are ready to negotiate. But where do you begin?
First you must understand the problem from the perspectives of
both you and your partner.
Most couples try to resolve a conflict without doing their homework.
They dont fully understand the conflict itself, nor do they
understand each others perspectives. In many cases, they
are not even sure what they really want or what theyre enthusiastically
willing to give. When the issue is clarified, the solution is
immediately apparent and the conflict is resolved.
Respect is the key to success in this phase of negotiation.
Once the issue has been identified and you hear each others
perspective, it is extremely important to avoid trying to straighten
each other out. Remember that your goal is enthusiastic agreement,
and there is no way you will be enthusiastic if you reject each
others perspective. In fact the only way you will reach
an enthusiastic agreement is if you come up with a solution that
accommodates each others perspective.
Ground Rule 5. Brainstorm with abandon.
Youve set the ground rules. Youve identified the conflict
from each others perspective. Now youre ready for
the creative part looking for solutions that you think
will make you both happy. I know that can seem impossible if you
and your partner have drifted into incompatibility. But the climb
to compatibility has to start somewhere, and if you put your minds
to it, youll think of options that please you both.
The secret to understanding your partner is to try to think like
your partners Taker thinks. Its easy to appeal to
your partners Giver. If she really loves me, shell
let me do this. Or, hell be thoughtful enough to agree with
that, Im sure. But lasting peace must be forged with your
partners Taker, so your solutions must appeal to your partners
most selfish instincts. At the same time, they must also appeal
to your own selfish instincts.
When you brainstorm, quantity is often more important than quality.
Let your minds run wild; go with just about any thought that might
satisfy both of your Takers. If you let your creativity run free,
you are more likely to find a lasting solution.
Carry a pad of paper or pocket notebook with you so you can write
down ideas as you think of them throughout the day. Some problems
may require days of thought and pages of ideas. But keep in mind
your goal a solution that will appeal to both of your Takers.
Ground Rule 6. Choose the solution that meets the conditions
of the Policy of Joint Agreement mutual and enthusiastic
After brainstorming, you will have come up with some good and
some bad solutions. Now you need to sort through them. Good solutions
are those both you and your partner consider desirable. Bad solutions,
on the other hand, take only the feelings of one partner into
account at the expense of the other. The best solution is the
one that makes you and your partner enthusiastic.
Many problems are relatively easy to solve. You will be amazed
at how quickly you can come to an enthusiastic agreement for some
problems when you have decided to hold off on any action until
you both agree. Thats because when you know you must take
each others feelings into account, you become increasingly
aware of what it will take to reach a mutual agreement. Instead
of considering options that clearly are not in your partners
best interest, you reject them immediately and begin to think
of options you know would make both you and your partner happy.
You will be much smarter when you direct your mind to find only
So if you have tried to follow my advice but cant seem
to negotiate with each other regardless of how hard you try, addiction
may be the culprit. In fact a good way to determine if you are
addicted to a substance or activity is to see if you can follow
the Policy of Joint Agreement after you have agreed to it. If
you find you cant, you may need professional help to overcome
your addiction. But once its overcome, the Policy of Joint
Agreement will help you from returning to it later.
Excerpted from The One: A Field Guide to Relationships that Last
by Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. Used by permission of New Life Ministries.
New Life Ministries has a variety of resources on men, women, and
relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE or visit www.newlife.com.
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