In Connecting with Your Partner, Differences, Featured, Thoughts from Bob, Time to Make Your Marriage Dance

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 4: What’s Your Proposal?

In the first three posts in this series, How to Resolve Conflict in Your Marriage, we looked at pinpointing the real problem, calming the emotions so you can think rationally, and listening not only for your spouse’s position but for their underlying interest. If you have succeeded in doing all of these, you are ready to start making proposals.

I mediated a case once where an adult daughter had a dispute with her mother over how to care for the father/husband who was ailing. The daughter was responsible to the court and the court wanted standard medical care. Mom, on the other hand, wanted to try alternative methods. The daughter was certain the court would not approve those. This issue created tremendous tension between them and they were headed for court—until they used these principles.

When they came into the office, the problem had already been determined (Step 1), but they were agitated. Each thought she was right. They finally calmed down enough so they could listen to each other (Step 2). Mom loved her husband, and she feared losing him. So far, traditional Western medicine had not been working. She was desperate to try something else. The daughter loved both her parents, but she was responsible to the court for her actions (Step 3).

Now they were ready for the fourth step: Begin making proposals. Proposals were made. Proposals were rejected. Ultimately, they agreed to try alternative medicine for a period of time to see if it would work. If it didn’t, they agreed they would return to a traditional treatment plan. If the alternative worked, they would continue with it (Step 4). Mom and daughter were able to leave the mediation in peace and felt they had both been heard. They were even back on speaking terms.

The same principles of conflict resolution apply to marriage. Assuming you have pinpointed the problem, calmed your emotions, listened to and understood each other’s position and interest—now you can start making proposals for a solution you can both live with.

Flexibility And Creativity Are Key

In this step, you must remain flexible and creative. Your job is to come up with a proposal that may work. Remember that the more creative and flexible you are, the faster you’ll get to an answer. Be generous and keep your spouse’s interest in mind (Step 3).

You may believe, “You don’t know my spouse. He or she isn’t very flexible,” or, “My spouse will sit and glare at me and not make any suggestions.” In either case, ask them this question: “What is your proposal?” If they are very unresponsive to the process, you may need to keep gently asking. The goal is to get to a solution you can both live with.

Keep talking without allowing extreme emotions to come back. If emotions start to get out of control, return to Step 2. There should be no blaming, name-calling, or talking about how frustrated you were in the past. You can argue about the past for hours and merely go in circles. Now you must concentrate on the future and how you can move together harmoniously as you go forward.

You Don’t Have To Agree On What Happened

Spouse 1: You said you would pick up the laundry.
Spouse 2: No, I said YOU would pick up the laundry.

Who cares who said what! The question is, how is the laundry going to get picked up.
You may want to show a little grace. Sometimes communications can be ambiguous. If you say, “I’m not positive of the words I used,” that may help.

Next week we will conclude the process and the series. Stay tuned.

This article was originally published on our blog on February 1, 2018.

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