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This month, we are excited to re-run one of our very popular series, which gives helpful tips for resolving conflict. Is there a problem that you and your spouse keep fighting about? How do you find a solution both you and your spouse can live with? In our 5-part series, How To Resolve Conflicts In Your Marriage, we’ll give you helpful tools to resolve disagreements in a way that brings harmony.

A Mediator Gives 5 Steps For Resolving Conflicts In Your Marriage
Part 2: Calm The Emotions

I remember a man in a case I was mediating. He was so upset, he stormed out of the building. He kept walking around the parking lot flailing his arms and yelling at me in angry tones. He was not a viable candidate for obtaining a win-win result—at least not in that condition.

What do you do when you and your spouse are in conflict? Last week I wrote about the importance of pinpointing the problem—and making sure it is an actual dispute and not merely a misunderstanding. In this blog post, we’re going to move on to Step 2: Calm the emotions.

Usually, when there is a dispute, it is because your spouse wants their way and you want yours, right? The emotions can take over for both parties. This can trigger the limbic system of the brain and you have a fight, flight or freeze response–the opposite of what is needed to resolve a dispute. Your goal is to come up with a solution both people can live with. To do that, you’re going to have to use the pre-frontal cortex of your brain where rational thinking takes place. If either party is riled up, no solution is possible.

Label The Emotion

The solution is you must calm the emotions—but how? Expert mediator, Doug Noll in his book De-Escalate, says you can do this by “affect labeling.” In layman’s terms, that means listening to your spouse and putting a label on the emotion you are hearing. Is the person angry? Scared? Anxious? Depressed? Do they feel betrayed? Tell them the emotion you’re hearing: “You’re angry.” “You feel discouraged.” “You don’t think anyone ever listens to you.”

Don’t say, “I think,” or “I feel.” Just label the emotion. If you are wrong, they will tell you. “You’re frustrated.” “No, but I do feel misunderstood!” Repeat back what they told you: “Oh, you feel misunderstood.” They want to know that you are listening. In this step, you are merely trying to calm things down. You will have to ignore their words and listen for the emotion. If you get the emotion right, you can usually calm them down within 90 seconds. If they keep talking, keep telling them their emotion. Although this works with just about any dispute, a spouse may get suspicious if you always do this. But their emotions are caught up in their belief that no one understands them.  So, understand them.

If they call you a name or try to start a fight, you must ignore it. Don’t let them get you mad. Everybody’s emotions must be calm to think rationally and proceed to the next step.

A person who is angry wants to be heard—not just at the surface level of their words, but at the deep-down level of what’s going on in their heart. When they know you are listening and understand, they will calm down.

Don’t miss part one of this series on resolving conflict in your marriage! Read about identifying the problem here.

This article was originally published on our blog on January 17, 2018.

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