One of the most common mistakes that comes along with conflict is attacking the person when you should be attacking the problem. How many times have you done it? You start off disagreeing with your boyfriend, girlfriend, family member, or friend, and before you know it you stop talking about the problem and start denigrating the person.
For example, let’s say Eric and I start off by disagreeing about what we should do on a Saturday night. Maybe I want to go out to a restaurant with Eric and then come home and watch a movie. Eric wants to have friends over to play games and eat dessert. If we discuss the pros and cons, compromise (e.g., plan to do a game night the following weekend) and move on, there are no problems. But, if we raise our defenses and start blasting the other because we believe that the situation is not fair to us, we are steps away from an unnecessary war.
Attacking someone usually results from feeling mistreated in some way. When we are clear-headed and thinking of our honey’s needs above our own, we don’t need to attack. It’s when we are battling for our way, or for our point to be received, that we lash out.
Let’s say a couple had a similar scenario above that Eric and I sometimes have. The resulting unhealthy scenario could be something like this:
Her: Why can’t we spend some time alone? You always want to be around other people but you never have time to spend with me.
Him: I spend time with you all the time. You just don’t notice it.
Her: Talking to me while I cook us dinner is not quality time!
Him: I work all day and you do not have to work outside the home. All I want is some time with friends to loosen up after a long week.
Her: Do you think your laundry gets done on its own? Do you think our grocery store delivers?!
Him: I know that you find time to do all the socializing you want to do, but I get villainized when I want to have friends over!
Her: You get villianized because you ARE a villain!
Him: Well, I’m a hard working villain. At least I’m not a lazy mooch!
Both: (They each slam a door to a room and spend the rest of the night not speaking to each other. Not much fun.)
Again, this example is fictitious, but it doesn’t take much for a couple who is focused on their own selfish needs to get to this point. The problem was a simple difference of opinion about one Saturday night’s plans. By the end of the argument, the problem wasn’t being discussed. Instead, the couple was grasping at reasons why the other person was horrible.
When I was a child, I thought that adults had reached a special place in life where they no longer had temper tantrums or selfish thoughts. Boy, was I wrong! Adults (or should I say tall people who are old enough to be considered adults) are sometimes more selfish than children. Children just don’t keep their selfishness hidden inside as well as adults often do.
The truth is we all have a little kid inside of us that wants his or her own way. When we behave maturely, we can usually find a solution to the problems in our lives. When we give in to our little alter ego, we are only moments away from unnecessary war. Another way the scenario above could’ve been handled is as follows:
Her: You know, it’s been a while since we’ve had any alone time. Would you mind if we kept tonight to ourselves, but invited friends over sometime next week for games and pizza? I haven’t had a chance to clean the house.
Him: I guess we could do that. Would you mind if Bob and Sue joined us for dinner at the restaurant and then we could come home and watch a movie alone?
Her: That sounds good. I’m really looking forward to just hanging out with you. I miss you when you have to work so much.
Him: I miss you too. Thanks for supporting me during this difficult time at work.
The main differences in the two were tone of voice, respect for each other, and kindness. It wasn’t all about each person individually, but each person was still able to get what he and she wanted.
The first words out of her mouth weren’t accusatory. No marriage will be perfect in this area, but if both people commit to compromising with and respecting each other, fewer attacks will be made.
How do you and your boyfriend/girlfriend handle conflicts now? Are you happy with how most of your conflicts are resolved?