Take Heated Conflict to a Cooperative Decision


Are you tired of arguing about the same thing over and over again? Arguments go in circles. Forgetting what started the argument. Instead, focusing on how you are talking to each other, once sparks start popping.

The intensity heats up with each blaming statement. It’s met with a counter-jab. You are both on the defensive or trying to prove your point. Hoping you can convince the other one to agree with you. Does this sound familiar?

We’ve all been there, experienced unresolved conflict. But for some couples, conflict plagues most of their interactions. Knowing you have a part in creating and reducing conflict can be freeing.

Conflict is Co-Created

Most conflicts don’t start as a we-problem. That is, until both spouses are focusing on getting the other to change. The conflict can be triggered when one person “leaks” on the other.

The quickest way to lower the heat on a conflict is to acknowledge your part. It definitely lowers my heart rate! Once I figure out how I may have heated up the interaction, I can begin to calm down. In that moment, I switch from blaming to being responsible for myself.

I’m not the martyr, as it’s not all my fault. Although tempting, I don’t have to convince my spouse what his part is, he either sees it or he doesn’t. The calming part is knowing both of our reactions create the conflict.

3 Steps for Taking a Conflict to Cooperation:

What else can we do besides owning our part in the conflict? When you have conflict regarding a joint decision, here a few steps to help you through conflict to cooperation:

1. Identify Agreement – What do you agree on? Look for common goals, even if you have different ideas about how to get there.

For instance, a thirty-something, married couple agree on staying out of debt. To help track their spending, Jacob and Mary decide to let each other know when either plans on spending over $200.

Jacob comes home excited, “I’m going to buy a motorcycle. I’ve always wanted one.” And Mary responds with shock and despair, “You what?!” (I’m not picking on men, women like to shop too!)

2. Identify Disagreement – What can you not bend on? Clearly share what you are not willing to do.

Mary tries to collect herself, asking “How are you going to pay for this dream bike?” Jacob responds somewhat defensively, “I notice we have a nice sum of money in savings, so I won’t have to buy it on credit. And, the owner is going to give me a great deal.” Mary quickly defines, “I’m not okay with using our family savings for a motorcycle. Do you have any other ideas?”

3. Compromise or Disagree – When do you hold the line and when are you okay with being flexible? Find a solution you can both live with.

Jacob scuffs his foot on the floor, pauses and states, “I’m willing to work a second job for a few months.” (He isn’t willing to compromise on his dream, but he is willing to be flexible by making additional money.) Mary hesitates, knowing she’ll miss having him home, but says “Go for it, and get me a helmet too.”

Not all conflicts reach a compromise this easily. Jacob could have said he was going to pay with credit. Then, Mary would have “agreed to disagree” by letting Jacob be the one to pay off the debt. If Mary can let the responsibility stay in Jacob’s lap, then they have found a solution they can both live with.

Differences Can be an Asset

Having differences isn’t the problem; it is how you respond to the differences. Not suppressing your feelings to avoid conflict. But, by learning how we play a part in inviting the reactions we don’t want.

“When people can listen without reacting emotionally, communication is wide open and differences are an asset to a marriage, not a liability.” ~ Dr. Michael Kerr

How do you make differences an asset in your relationship?


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Photo Credit: “The Moment” by Sean McGrath

7 responses to “Take Heated Conflict to a Cooperative Decision

  1. Since reading Stephen Coveys book I have learned that any change from my wife will only come when I make changes in myself.
    We have gone through periods where we have spent much too much money, to “protect” my wife I have tried and hide that we had financial problems, then gotten mad when she keeps wanting to spend money.

    I have wanted her to be more attentive and surprise me more often, without realizing that I was never surprising her.

    When I changed my paragrim and was completely honest with our economy everything got better, she spent less and made more as did I.
    When I started surprising her first she started to surprise me.

    The same goes in any discussion or argument, first change yourself, then understand the other, then you might get your will through.

    • Great examples Daniel. Openness and working on self brings more happiness. It is quite a paradigm shift from focusing on what you want others to do, but it can be so freeing. Relating to others is such a work in progress for me, always more to learn and more to work on within myself. Hard work but worth it!

  2. A great way to get started in getting in touch with your feelings is through journaling…Number two Hone your listening skills.When it comes to conflict resolution not only do we have to be able to express our feelings but we also have to be able to listen effectively. Studies have shown that just making the other person feel heard and understood can go a long way towards the resolution of the conflict. If you have good listening skills that can also help to bridge the gap between the two of you because you will be able to understand where they are coming from and get a clear picture of what is going on.

    • Listening to ourselves and others at the same time does take some practice, but worth it.

      I’m naturally very curious, so the more I accept self/others, the more I can listen without pressuring others. What helps you be a good listener and still express yourself?

  3. Marcy,
    Following through on this advice by itself is enough to save marriages and other relationships. One only needs a little willingness!

  4. Hello Marci
    How are you?
    Conflicts will always occur but as you’ve rightly pointed out it’s important to identify common grounds, make compromises and also note the boundaries lol!!
    I believe love in a relationship thrives on openness, sincerity and understanding.In the heat of the moment it’s advisable one slows down to give room for reasoning to express itself so we can move from conflict to cooperation.
    Thanks for sharing these tips
    Take care of yourself and enjoy the rest of the day

    • Hello Ayo. Thank you for your friendly and thoughtful comments.

      Emotions come faster than our thoughts, so yes slowing down our reactions is key. Then, we have a choice in how we respond. What helps all of you slow down your reactions in conflict?