Conflict Resolution Skills


Many couples are immediately interested in conflict resolution skills.  They say it’s about communication, and yes, communication is a huge part of resolution but not the only skill necessary to resolve conflict.  

Yet, this is my favorite place to start: 

Assertive Communication!


Assertive Communication is about expressing needs. 

The following is called the Assertive Script:


I feel_______(this emotion)______________________________.

When _____(this happens; avoiding “You Statements”)______.

And I need____________________________________________.


So for a couple of examples:

I feel frustrated

When I cannot find the keys

Please put the keys on the hooks by the door.


I feel guilty, I’m sorry

For lying to you. 

I need your patience to prove to you my promise.


This simple script gives opportunity for empathy, specifics and action-planning!!  It also gives the opportunity to “parrot” your partner; JUST REPEATING what the other said can avoid so many issues.  This also provides validation that you’re taking your partner seriously.  


But what is this about “promises,” you ask?? 

Good question as it segues into the next Conflict Resolution Skill: 

Apology Process.


Yes, an apology is more than words; it’s a process!

The second example provided above covers most of the necessities: 

  1. Acknowledgement (lying to you).  
  2. Apology (admission of guilt using literal words).
  3. Promise (will never lie again).
  4. PROOF.  Unfortunately this takes time to prove anything.  This is exactly where Forgiveness can come into play!!

As you may recall from a previous blog entry, Forgiveness is a cognitive decision to release expectations and adjust boundaries.  So during the time it takes to prove something there needs to be efforts witnessed.  These efforts are explored and defined by each spouse and the therapist.  


Next Resolution Skill is the classic: 


In my experience when discussing time-outs I always hear how “incomplete” they are.  

People often know how to retreat into a different part of the home when the argument becomes too intense for productivity.  

But just as often, they don’t know what to do during their time-out.

I encourage them to simply fill out the assertive script before returning to the discussion to increase probability of productivity. Without the script we could return to the same intensity level quickly, with the added disappointment and discouragement from a failed time-out.  


It’s important to be accountable for your mistakes.  Irresponsible people are inherently unsafe.  We can have a million irresponsible friends; no one is perfect.  But we cannot be surprised or offended when they act irresponsibly. So don’t depend on the irresponsible, thus do not commit a lifetime or reproduce with an irresponsible person.  If you have already done so we go about a different route to “teach each other how to treat each other”.  If that doesn’t work that is in and of itself data to seriously consider before making another life decision.  


Accountability provides safety.  And it’s not about perfection.  When we are accountable, we can make and address our mistakes; but not when we deny them.  When we deny our mistakes or our contribution to a tumultuous situation we have no empowerment to influence the end results.  When we are powerless, we become hopeless.  Being responsible isn’t about being the boss of everyone; it’s about effort.  


Validation is the other necessary component for love and trust development.  Validation is not about agreement!  It’s stating, “I understand your line of logic,” even if it differs from my own, even if it’s just wrong!  That statement is so validating as it lowers defenses to allow other opinions to enter, other opinions to consider because one feels understood by the other.  


People just want to be understood.  Understood for their mistakes and their logic.  People want to be good and behave well.  That’s why active-listening gives that opportunity for Validation.  


Active Listening

I always suggest eye contact and maybe even physical contact when appropriate.

Parroting or repeating their assertive script diminishes misunderstanding.

Asking clarifying or follow-up questions relevant to the assertive script or issue.  

All these suggestions indicate to your partner you are giving them 100% of your attention.  That you are taking your partner seriously.