Relationships: Understanding your Conflict Style
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Virginia Sherborne MBACP (Accred.)
31st October, 20130 Comments
All love relationships are going to involve conflict at some point. That’s because conflict occurs when someone’s needs are not being met. Even in the most healthy of relationships, there will be times when underlying unfulfilled needs are causing a problem. This might be fairly minor, or it could be something really serious. Either way, the conflict has to be managed.
Every person has a way that they personally approach conflict situations. Understanding your own ‘conflict style’ and your partner’s style can really help in arriving at a more harmonious relationship. Here are descriptions of each of the 5 conflict styles. See if any of these seem familiar!
This is when someone tries to pretend a conflict does not exist. They are a bit like a tortoise, pulling their head into their shell because that way they feel safer. This may happen if they have grown up with a lot of conflict in the past, and they are afraid of sparking something off. Or they may have been brought up to avoid conflict as it is not ‘nice’ to bring up a disagreement. Unfortunately, when we avoid conflict, it means that our own needs and the needs of others just don’t get attended to, and relationships can eventually fall apart. Some degree of discussion about needs is a sign of a healthy relationship.
If you always find yourself giving in to the other person in a conflict situation, then this is your style. The other person gets their needs met, but you don’t. Someone may default to this style if they were brought up to put other people first, to be ‘unselfish’. Although an accommodator may feel like they are doing the right thing, the down side is that they may get very resentful and act like a martyr. This can lead to a very uncomfortable relationship for both parties.
If you know you always want to win in a conflict, then this style matches yours. Getting your own way is vital, and you don’t really care that much about the other person’s feelings. This way of sorting out conflicts can be appealing for anyone who doesn’t like to feel vulnerable or to see things from another point of view. In a relationship, using this style can leave your partner feeling very uncared for and even bullied. The issue won’t go away for long as their underlying need remains unmet, so it’s actually a recipe for escalating conflict.
To many people, this seems a sensible option to sort out a conflict situation. Each person gives a bit of ground and they meet in the middle. Sometimes it involves taking turns to win. It seems ‘fair’. But...in practice, both partners can feel a bit resentful. They haven’t really got what they each needed.
This style can also be called Collaborating. The result of a win-win style is that both partners get what they need. No one feels resentful or overpowered. And the conflict doesn’t rear its head again. This is the best option for resolving conflict in relationships.
It can take a bit of effort to use the Win-win conflict style, but it’s well worth it. How do you do it? Together, you start by summarising what the conflict is concerning, trying to identify each person’s underlying needs. Then you write down as many solutions as you can (even if they seem crazy/impossible) without judging or commenting on them. Next, you discuss each solution in turn to see if it addresses each partner’s underlying need. Only when you have found a solution which provides a ‘win’ for both partners do you choose that solution.
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