Keys to Effective Conflict Resolution

Keys to Effective Conflict Resolution

Many couples deal with conflict in the heat of the moment when emotions often cloud judgment and listening respectfully becomes a difficult task.  Too often conflict goes unresolved and one or both of the spouses become withdrawn and bitter when the conflict resurfaces at a later date.

One way for couples to move past this roadblock in their marriage is to get into the habit of regularly sharing what authors Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott call “withholds.”  Withholds are thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative, that spouses either intentionally or unintentionally keep to themselves rather than sharing with their partners.

When done in a safe, appropriate manner, sharing withholds can be a healthy and effective means for resolving conflict and improving communication.  The Parrotts suggest the following ten-minute exercise for couples to use when sharing withholds:

1. Ask your spouse at an appropriate time, “Would you like to share withholds?”

2. Each spouse writes down two positive withholds and one negative withhold.

3. One spouse begins by sharing one of their positive withholds (e.g. “I really appreciated how you took the time to help me clean the kitchen last night.”)
4. The same spouse shares their negative withhold (e.g. “I was really hurt when you teased me about my sleeping habits in front of our friends on Saturday.”)

5. That spouse finishes by sharing their second positive withhold.

6. The receiving spouse can only respond with “thank you” to each withhold shared.

7. The other spouse then shares three withholds.

8. After both spouses have taken their turn, the couple can discuss the positive withholds that were shared but not the negative ones.  Negative withholds can be discussed only after thirty minutes have passed since they were originally shared (this protects couples from “reacting” to the negative withholds rather than thoughtfully responding).

This small exercise allows husbands and wives to improve communication and increase intimacy by talking about conflict in a calm, non-threatening environment.  When couples learn to discuss conflict in this setting rather than in the heat of the moment, hurtful words and actions that have the potential to leave long-term scars can be minimized.

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