All of us have had a disagreement with another person at some time. Disagreements are a normal part of relationships. It isn’t the fact that you may not agree with your spouse on an item, but how you resolve the issue.
Unfortunately, many disagreements escalate into conflicts that can impact the relationship if they are allowed to get out of hand. To avoid this, learning how a disagreement can escalate is helpful in containing it and allow you to resolve the issue.
Three Levels of Conflict
There are three levels of conflict, with each level becoming more problematic. Level 1 is where the parties will be able to resolve the current issue without causing any damage to the relationship.
Level 1: Issue level – This is when the couple stay focused on the issue.
• Come in with the attitude you will both win (avoid trying to show you are right)
• Stay with the present topic (don’t bring up the past)
• Mutually agree you are part of the solution (you both need to work together)
• Stay focused on just one issue (don’t do an issue resolving marathon)
• Be realistic about how important the issue is (is it really that crucial)
• Identify specifically what the issue is, don’t generalize (avoid saying never and always)
• Focus on how you can resolve the issue
Level 2: Personality Level – This is when they stop focusing on the issue and attack each other verbally.
• Attitude is trying to prove themselves right
• Keep bring up the past
• Blame the other person for the problem
• Bringing up issues unrelated to the presenting issue
• Presenting the problem as worse than it is
• Generalizing by using statements like “you never take out the trash” or “you never listen to me”
• Asking why it happened or why they did it
Level 3: Relationship Level – This is when the couple stops discussing issues and wonder why they ever got together.
• Attitude is that the couple can’t work it out, so why bother
• Talking about not having a future together
• Threatening to leave the relationship
Stay on Level 1 during your discussions. Agree ahead of time on a signal or word (make it a funny word) that you can use if the conversation starts to drift into Level 2. Then agree to take a break, acknowledging how important resolving the issue is to both of you. Agree on a time to resume the discussion.
If you need help learning to resolve conflict in your marriage make an appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor. Our services are fee-based with a sliding scale based on your ability to pay. Please schedule an appointment today by calling 602-749-4405.
Rebecca Sauer is a licensed counselor at Catholic Charities. She enjoys spending time with her husband, children and grandchildren.