Let’s see how Ryan and Danny (from example one above) talk to each other:
Ryan [walks into the living room and sees Danny watching TV]: “All you care about is the stupid TV and your sports teams.”
Danny: “I deserve time to relax after work. All you ever do is nag me. Get off my back.”
Even in just a single exchange, Ryan and Danny have personally attacked each other’s character which results in escalating their conflicts and distancing them from each other emotionally.
This couple desperately needs research-proven relationship conflict skills to soften how they talk to each other. Let’s see what happens when they apply those skills:
Ryan [walks into the living room and sees Danny watching TV]: “Baby, you just got home and I really want to spend time with you. I’m annoyed the TV is on and I get that you need your time to cool off today. I want to go for a walk with you and need to talk about my stressful day. Can you do that?”
Danny: “I’m sorry you’ve had a stressful day. That’s difficult. I’m up for walking and hearing about your day. And I need some time to veg so I can have enough energy to be engaged in our conversation. You know I’m more irritable and jump to conclusions when I haven’t had time to veg after work. How about I veg for 15 minutes and then I’ll meet you by the door.”
Ryan: “I do want you to have your time to veg and it does help you be engaged. And I’m pretty stressed. Are five minutes of vegging good enough before our walk and then you can do a little more after dinner?”
Danny: “I can make that work. I’ll set a timer so I can meet you by the door in five minutes. Sound good?”
The differences between this and the previous conversation are striking.
In the first conversation, the partners were critical to each other.
In the second one, Ryan uses the X, Y, Z formula: I feel X about Y behavior and need Z (a positive and actionable request). Ryan also acknowledges Danny’s needs and takes them into consideration when getting his own needs met. This helps make Ryan more influential in the relationship.
Danny responds by being empathetic and validating Ryan’s need. Danny then shares what he needs so that he can give Ryan what Ryan needs.
As they focus on the end goal, they bargain with each other to find a win-win solution.
While Ryan is annoyed that Danny won’t turn off the TV and go on a walk right now, Danny is also annoyed that his veg time is being cut short. Knowing that they both need to be flexible and work together to find a win-win, they accept each other’s influence and find a way to honor both their needs.
As you can see, this problem is rather easy to manage when partners apply the following mature conflict skills:
1) Focusing on behavior, not the character of the person;
2) Expressing feelings;
3) Sharing a recipe for the partner to be successful
4) Honoring the other partner’s needs in considering how to get one’s own needs met.
1) Reflecting back what was expressed to make sure it’s understood,
2) Validating your partner’s experience and empathizing, and,
3) Listening for the longing or need.
1) Accepting influence by putting both partners’ needs on par with each other,
2) Honoring that there are two different experiences and both are valid,
3) Seeking to find a solution that is good for both partners, not just one.