Can You Hear Me Now?

"Can You Hear Me Now?" — Constructive Conflict Resolution

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Northstate Parent  [Original Article]

Conflict within a relationship is not a problem. What is done with the conflict and how it is handled becomes the issue. How well conflicts are dealt with in a relationship have a significant bearing on marital quality. This makes the significance of conflict resolution skills within any relationship profound.

In the United States, 90% of adults will marry at some point in their lives. The U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that nearly half of these marriages will end in divorce. This choice to marry is one of the most important decisions in life, yet many people do not invest time and energy into preparing for their marital relationship. Couples typically spend more time preparing for the marriage ceremony than building skills to help them have a happy and lasting marriage.

For a relationship to last, it is important to promote the skills necessary to resolve conflicts as they arise. Conflict resolution and communication skills are not necessarily taught in school, although they would be a wonderful addition to everyone's basic education. Couples often have difficulty dealing with problems in their relationships, push them aside and then get deeper and deeper into marital discord. Once they begin to learn the skills necessary to resolve these difficulties, the relationship becomes more "current." In other words, there are fewer unresolved issues and more resolution to the problems. The old baggage is reduced and the couple is freer to deal with issues as they arise.

Getting rid of the old baggage in a relationship means healing the emotional bond. This healing, in additional to supplemental skills in communication and conflict resolution, have been shown to be effective in maintaining therapeutic changes. So an effective plan for helping a struggling relationship is to get the help needed to get over the old problems and learn the skills required to do things differently now and in the future.

For the past 24 years, in my private practice, I have witnessed couples in varying degrees of distress. By far, the biggest communication tool missing for most of these couples is that they do not truly listen to each other. Many of them talk a lot, but very few actually hear what their partner is saying. Each person is so busy formulating their response while their partner is talking, that they seldom truly understand the other's point of view. If you could give your partner a beautiful Valentine's gift it should be that you seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

The best way to be sure you heard what your partner is trying to tell you is to give feedback. This is the art of listening carefully and checking out what you heard. Feedback is not about your thoughts or feelings about what was stated. Jumping into defensiveness, excuses or blaming your partner for the problem would be an example of skipping the feedback and going directly into your thoughts without making sure you heard your partner's point of view. An example of appropriate feedback would be, "I understand you feel..." or "I hear you saying that you believe..." You might totally disagree with what the other person said, but at this point you are only trying to understand their viewpoint.

Feedback is one key element of effective communication and conflict resolution. There are many other important tools that couples need, especially during times of stress and when emotions are flying. Effective conflict resolution skills will make your relationship feel safer, more communicative and increase the intimacy you feel with your partner.

Constructive conflict resolution skills can be learned. Healing a wounded emotional bond can happen. Learning to communicate in a healthy, productive manner that increases the intimacy in a relationship is possible. First you have to want to, second you have to admit that there is a problem, then you have to seek out the help and training that you need to create the positive changes that can help you create a wonderful, loving relationship.