Domestic violence incidents frequently happen during conflict. Therefore, finding ways to resolve conflict early, before it escalates, is important to those of us working to stop our harmful acts. Here’s something I’ve learned from experience: the best way to resolve conflict quickly is to own your part.
I admit, this act of accountability is a lot easier said than done. It goes against the grain of today’s culture that loudly cries foul at every real or perceived injustice. It’s also counter to our human nature, which wants to hang on to our hurts and get vengeance whenever we feel wronged.
Practicing the technique
The next time you find yourself at odds with your partner, ask yourself what you could have done better. Even if the mistake you identify is small, tell your significant other what you now realize and apologize for it. We can’t see ourselves objectively, so it’s typical that we won’t see everything we did right away, but this is a great starting point.
Avoid thinking about or pointing out what your partner did—no matter how big you think their part is. Just concentrate on the part you can own and stop there. This technique takes practice, but you’ll get better at it the more you do it.
Why inward focus helps to resolve conflict
The problem with pointing out what our partner did wrong is that no one wants to have their mistakes highlighted. It naturally makes them defensive and they’re likely to dig in, argue, or even attack back. None of these helps to resolve conflict or enhance the relationship.
Confessing and apologizing for our part starts a positive dialogue. Without defensiveness or attempts to assign blame, the two of you are free to talk about solving whatever problem started the fight. Removing both you and your mate’s strong negative emotions makes for a much more productive conversation.
Another huge benefit of focusing on our part is that creates positive vibes between our partner and us. Recognizing something that we did wrong and saying sorry for it communicates that we value the relationship and have empathy for them. They are more likely to feel heard, cared for, and respected, which builds intimacy between two people. Isn’t that ultimately what we want, as opposed to just winning an argument?
Focusing on our part helps us grow
Focusing on our own part of a disagreement not only helps us resolve conflict, but it is one of the best paths to personal growth. Leaving our attention on our partner and their shortcomings is a sure recipe for getting stuck. We can’t change the other person, and we end up missing the things we could do that would actually improve our relationship.
I tend to want to resolve conflict as soon as one comes up, whereas my wife Lynn tends to avoid it. Not surprisingly, these different approaches can create even more discord between us. Rather than pressuring her to engage sooner, I’ve learned ways to calm myself until she’s ready to talk. Growing that skill has paid big benefits for our relationship—it is something I can control without needing to convince her to change.
Ever notice that the top athletes, best coaches, most respected CEOs, and greatest leaders take personal responsibility for failures? They don’t blame their opponent, competitors, or subordinates. This focus on themselves and what they can do better is what got them to the top and earns them the respect that they receive.
Obstacles to overcome
One of the things that gets in the way of us using this strategy is getting flooded by our emotions. Expecting a drowning person to think through what they did to fall into the water is unrealistic. As I’ve developed better emotional control, I’ve been better able to see my part. Taking a time-out in the heat of a conflict certainly helps us drain away the intense emotions and think more clearly.
Apologizing may seem hard, but it doesn’t have to be and it really helps to resolve conflict. Often we don’t apologize because we’re afraid it means the other person won. We equate it with giving them permission to continue to hurt us in whatever way we felt hurt to begin with. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Apologizing doesn’t weaken our position; it strengthens it. Saying sorry for our part produces the good karma I talked about above. It is the one thing we can do that is most likely to get the other person to look at their actions and apologize back. None of us are perfect, so there is no shame in admitting our mistakes and we need to have grace for others’ blunders.
I’m not suggesting that we should apologize for things we don’t think we did wrong. That strategy will just lead to resentment. Plus, our partner is sure to see that our words were not genuine.
Start with one thing—anything—that you know you could have done better and ask forgiveness for that. I’ve found when I compare my reaction to an “ideal” response I can see many ways in which I fall short. As I continue to calm down and look at myself, I usually find more and more things I can do better next time.
Shift your mindset from being right to seeing your partner’s point of view, and from being defensive to empathizing with them. Stop blaming and start collaborating to solve the problem. Take responsibility for the parts you could do better and keep looking for ways to grow from what you learn.
Couples who learn to navigate disagreements have the best and longest lasting relationships. Winning is not about defeating the other side—it’s about solving problems in a way that will benefit everyone and building closeness while resolving conflict. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.