Many couples find themselves arguing over the same subjects with little or no progress toward resolving the real issues. In addition, the same conflict resolution style is used repeatedly without success. The typical style is I see most often in the therapy hour is an attack-counterattack style that starts with one person blaming the other and then defending against the ensuing counter-argument launched by their offended, defensive partner.
Attack-counterattack starts with blaming, one of the most destructive types of communication. Blaming is an irrational style of communication because there is no problem for which one person is solely responsible. Relationships are joint ventures. Each partner bares some responsibility in everything concerning the couple. A nice little saying that illustrates this is to remember that when you are pointing the finger at someone else there are three fingers pointing back at you.
Another destructive communication tactic is bring up the past. The present is the only place anything ever happens and reopening past issues only brings more pain into the present. This amounts to importing hurt and resentment into the relationship. The present has its own drama that needs full focus to deal with. If a person is dwelling on past hurts it is best for them to take that issue to their individual therapist to get unhooked from the pain.
We all meet our needs the best way we know how. Sometimes our choices are irrational, hurtful, or just plain stupid. But with few exceptions, there is no positive reason to hold on to them and hold them against the person we love. Resentment will eventually cause so much negative sentiment to build up it will wash away any positive feelings for the other person. This is called negative sentiment override and has ruined many relationships. Forgive your spouse his or her mistakes and short comings and try to stay in the present with them.
Effective conflict resolution starts with accepting personal responsibility for how you feel and for getting what you want out of the relationship. Focusing on the issue not the individual, will lead to solution focused discussions that will lead to a deeper understanding of needs in the relationship, and away from the defensive that arises when your spouse feels attacked.
Another important piece is to set aside a time for conflict resolution. It should be a regular appointment, for example every Saturday from 4:30-5:00. It is best if is time limited, so it cannot turn into a never ending complaint session. It may feel unnatural at first as everything does until you practice it a while. Eventually you will accustomed to it and your meetings will become more focused and efficient. It is also important to meet even if you do not have a conflict. Otherwise you will put other less important things first and lose the time. Anything that is not on the calendar rarely gets the time or attention it needs.
Each person should talk about how he or she contributes to the problem. Then together review the ineffective ways you have tried to solve the problem. Brainstorm possible solutions and write them down. Include even the ones that may seem ridiculous. From the list agree on one possible solution and identify how each of you will work toward the solution. Try it for a period of time and evaluate your progress at your next meeting. Adjust accordingly and if a solution is not found, select another one.
Instead of waiting for the final result, reward yourselves as you make progress toward the solution.
Conflict resolution should clear up the road blocks to a good relationship, not create new ones or recycle old ones.