How we co-create solutions instead of fighting to each get our own way.
Our view on conflict in relationships is radically different from the common one, which holds that conflicts are unavoidable, even important and necessary. In our experience, this is a fallacious assumption that sets up and perpetuates a negative mindset. Couples are primed to expect adversarial exchanges in which they take different sides, creating an illusory separation between them.
Our experience is otherwise. Early in our relationship, we began to notice that we hadn’t had an argument in over a year. We both had enough age and experience to find this unusual, so we started to examine the factors made our relating so peaceful and devoid of anger and recrimination. First we made a list of what wasn’t causing the lack of conflict:
- It wasn’t avoidance. We both have a strong sense of self that does not accept self-effacement or a sense of being manipulated.
- It wasn’t the initial euphoria of the honeymoon phase. That had worn off.
- It wasn’t just that we had luckily stumbled on a peaceful year. Living without conflict was different in its essence from even occasional conflict.
We began a private blog, where we regularly wrote back and forth to each other about the qualities that went into making our relationship conflict-free. This blog went on for more than two years and we used it as a basis for a book. Over the last decade we’ve identified these attitudes and behaviors. They can be practiced by anyone, whether you’re just starting your relationship or have been together a long time.
Attitudes and Behaviors for Conflict-Free Relating
- Make sure your core values are aligned.
- Honor, respect and celebrate the individuality of your partner, and their development as a person separate from you.
- Learn how to communicate through active listening and supportive language.
- Affirm to each other that you are on the same side.
- Find and create mutual solutions.
One critical aspect is that you both have to want this kind of adventure. In fact, you have to want it enough to give up some common relationship experiences: the need to be right, the practice of keeping score, and the chemical rush that comes with fighting and arguing, which for many people serves as a validation of their attraction.
Things You Must Give Up to Go Conflict-Free
- Your mental relationship list or scorecard.
- Your need to be right.
- The chemical rush of arguing and fighting.
- The habit of preparing your response while your partner is speaking.
Instead, you have to be willing to embark on a completely different way of being together, one in which you are equally concerned with your partner as yourself. You have to be aware at all times that you are both on the same side. Your goal has to be finding solutions that work for both of you and, even more importantly, that get created by both of you.
Whenever we are trying to make a decision or solve a problem, we sit down and devote some time to the process, when neither of us is in a hurry. We sit in physical contact, affirm we are both on the same side, that we seek mutual solutions and look forward to creating an outcome that is the product of both us in union. Then we start talking. For instance, recently we wanted to celebrate our anniversary by going away somewhere. The conversation went like this:
Sample Conflict-Free Discussion
Maude: I’d like to go somewhere rural so I feel like I’m away from everything.
Phil: I’m imagining a small coastal town so we can take beach walks and grab a pizza when we’re hungry.
Maude: I’d rather be somewhere that is totally different than what we experience daily [we already live in a coastal town].
Phil: Okay. I don’t want to be miles from anywhere where we’re short of supplies, but I do like the sense of getting away from it all. I can also get that feeling if we go to a strange town where we don’t know anyone.
Maude: Somehow I want the feel of a completely different environment. We could buy supplies and snuggle in.
Phil: That sounds like crumbs all over the bed. We’d need a kitchenette for three nights.
Maude: An AirBnB would probably work.
Phil: Let’s see what we can find on AirBnB. (We look together.) Oh, here’s a private one in the woods, yet only five miles to Trader Joe’s. But I still really want to be near the beach.
Maude: Well, look, there’s Montana De Oro State Park on the coast not too far away. My friend mentioned going there recently and it sounds just like what you were describing you wanted. We could do a day trip there.
Phil: Perfect! I’ve never been there and you know how I love exploring new trails. Let’s book it. I’m getting excited now.
The takeaways from this sample conversation are the same as all our conversations:
- We each speak from “I” instead of saying “You.”
- We hear each other and look for solutions that accommodate the other without compromising our own personal desires.
- We are open to new possibilities rather than holding tight to our original position. In fact the real fun starts when we create a new solution together that wasn’t originally what either had in mind.
When you can imagine that such a relationship is possible, a great transformation can occur. That which seems hard or unattainable becomes real and easy to experience. The kind of intimacy your share when you consciously co-create your life together is an unbreakable bond. This kind of intimacy brings the real experience of peace, which has the power to change the world.