1. What do I say or do that really pushes your buttons?
“All she needs to do is use that one tone of voice, and my blood starts to boil.” “When he rolls his eyes at me, I want to tear my hair out. But there might be words or actions you each use unknowingly that have the same effect. Kindly share these with each other and offer the reasons why you get hurt or offended. Understanding helps foster compassion and motivation to change.
2. What seems to be the recurring theme or themes in our conflict?
Often couples find they argue about the same things repeatedly. The arguments might take on a different form, but the substance is generally the same. They get caught in a cycle of negative engagement without ever coming to any satisfying resolution or compromise to break free of the pattern. By allowing this same conflict to go on and on, you aren’t putting the relationship first. You are allowing it to languish with an unsettled divide between you. Talk about these recurring conflict themes. What can you do to resolve them once and for all?
3. What makes you feel heard and understood when we have conflict?
During conflict, it’s difficult not to react and get angry or bitter. We find ourselves saying unkind things, being passive-aggressive, or trying to intimidate or wound our partner in an effort to protect ourselves. When disagreements occur, the most important thing you can do is to work together to rebuild the connection between you. That requires self-control and mutual understanding. You both need to feel heard and understood before you can reach a resolution or compromise. Find out what makes your partner feel that you truly hear and understand his or her position and what he or she is trying to communicate.
4. When is the best time for us to resolve conflict?
You’re out to dinner, and you’ve both had a few cocktails. One of you says something sarcastic, and the other responds in kind. Before you know it, you’re fighting under your breath, as onlookers nearby feel the tension pulsating from your table in waves. Not the best place to work out a problem, right? Neither is the family dinner table, just before you turn the light out for sleep, or as one of you is heading out the door to work. Conflict might arise spontaneously, but you should both agree to resolve it at a time when you are both calm, free of distractions, and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The sooner you can resolve a problem, the better, but the timing of your conversation is key to reaching a positive result for both of you. Determine together the best time for these conflict resolution discussions.
5. How can you best manage anger or frustration so we can talk calmly?
There’s no question that it’s hard to remain calm and even-tempered when you feel angry, hurt, or frustrated. But these feelings cloud your ability to work together toward resolution. You’re likely to say or do something that will only make the situation worse. If you have a problem containing your feelings in the heat of the moment, what can you do to restore emotional equilibrium to a place where you can have a calm discussion?
6. What do you see as the major differences between us in the way we handle conflict?
Everyone has learned different ways for handling conflict. It’s been modeled by our parents and other role models, and, in part, it’s reflective of our personality type and level of confidence and self-esteem. One of you might retreat and withdraw during conflict, while the other yells and screams. Neither reaction is healthy or productive. What is your typical “conflict style” and how does it differ from your spouse’s?
7. Which of these differences do we need to work on for healing, resolving, or managing?
If you have differing conflict styles, you need to determine a new way that works for both of you. One of you might need to agree stop raising her voice and the other needs to be fully present in the discussion rather than clamming up. Talk about your differing styles with the main goal of maintaining the integrity of your relationship. How do you both need to modify the way you approach conflict so your partner doesn’t feel put off?
8. What should we do if we reach an impasse?
There will likely be times in the life of your relationship that you simply can’t resolve an issue. You can’t reach a compromise, and neither of you is willing to back down or let go. You can’t allow this impasse to remain untended. Whether you decide to find a mediator, go to counseling, or draw straws, you need a plan in place for these impasse situations.
9. What can we promise each other that we will never say or do during times of conflict?
“Maybe we should just split up.” “I never really loved you in the first place.” “I can’t talk to you. I’m leaving.” Find out from each other what those “line crossing” words and behaviors are, and make a pact that you will avoid them at all costs. Consider putting this in writing, as it strengthens your personal commitment to each other.
10. How can we reframe conflict to make it a positive opportunity or experience for us?
Healthy couples view conflict not so much as an opportunity to get one’s way or blow off steam, but rather as an opportunity for growth and learning. What can you learn about yourself during times of conflict? How can both of you grow as individuals and as a couple? How does conflict resolution help you in other areas of your life together and apart?
Follow-up: Are there any behavior adjustments you’d like to request from your partner related to disagreements and differences? What specific action steps will you both take to improve your conflict resolution and understanding of each other during conflict? Write these down and determine how and when you will initiate these changes or actions.