Six Approaches to Conflict

September 11, 2015 | By

by Dr. Bert Pitts

Again, marriages universally must face conflict, and are helped and strengthened by it, provided it is handled properly. However, as mentioned before, conflict still is not pleasant. It can help to have some templates, or “road maps,” regarding possible resolutions already in mind, as well as various tools or aids to keep the communication flowing. Here are 6 common approaches to conflict: 4 are resolutions, and 2 are not, although one of the 2 is still an acceptable approach.

  1. Acquiescence: This resolution to conflict is presented first on purpose, because most couples could stand to use it much more often! Acquiescence is where one of the two parties realizes he or she is wrong (and their spouse is right). He or she then does the noble thing and acquiesces (or yields) to the other’s point of view, but does so graciously, and without loss of face. This is accomplished by saying something like, “You know what? You’re right. I get it now.” or “Maybe you’re right.” Wise couples practice acquiescence often, as it saves a lot of time and energy, and breeds goodwill.
  2. Compromise: Compromise involves “meeting in the middle,” where the resolution involves each party both getting some and giving up some of what they originally wanted. In other words, compromise involves finding a balanced position that is acceptable to both parties. A helpful mathematical analogy to compromise is 1+1=1 1/2.
  3. Consensus: Consensus is a useful resolution to employ when the two parties do not agree, but one party realizes that the issue at hand is not that important to them, and/or they cannot come up with an alternative solution, hence they yield to the other party’s decision or point-of-view. A consensual solution might sound like: “I don’t fully agree, but it’s not that big of a deal to me—let’s go with what you want to do.” or “I don’t know what we need to do, but I can’t think of anything better than your idea.” Consensus should not be employed unless the party that yields truly is OK with that with which they are going along. For example, even if one party has not come up with an alternate solution, this does not mean that a consensual solution has to be offered or accepted.
  4. Synergy: This is the last of the four resolutions to conflict. A synergistic resolution is one where the initial conflict (disagreement) stimulates each party to “think outside of the box,” and come up with a different and better solution than either party had reached on their own. Like with compromise, the mathematical analogy is helpful here, where synergy is represented by 1+1=4, or 1+1=9, or even 1+1=83!
  5. Peaceful Disagreement: This is not a resolution to conflict, but it’s the next best thing. The often-used suggestion “Let’s agree to disagree.” exemplifies peaceful disagreement. Additionally, this suggestion is often used to signal that the one party feels that the discussion has stalled (i.e., is not moving any closer to resolution, or generating new ideas) and needs to be “tabled” until a later time (or permanently). In the absence of a resolution, “agreeing to disagree” is an excellent way to protect and prioritize the relationship, and not allow a stalled conflict to fester and become damaging. In the sense that it clearly “chooses” the relationship over the issue, peaceful disagreement often feels like a resolution, and serves to draw the parties closer.
  6. Hostile Disagreement: This is the one approach to conflict that needs to be avoided, as much as possible. This is warfare, and has the power to damage a relationship permanently, or end it. Sadly, millions of good marriages have ended over small and trivial conflicts, because one or both parties were not able or willing to “agree to disagree,” (and perhaps seek professional help with resolving the conflict). Whereas peaceful disagreement chooses the relationship over the issue, hence pulling the parties closer, hostile disagreement does the opposite, often polarizing the couple into rage, bitterness, and even hatred.

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