You remember them don’t you – the old tan rough looking sacks. Stuffed in the corner of the shed, barn, or garage, these sacks were used for storage. So what do gunny sacks have to do with conflict between spouses or partners?
We recognize that conflict happens and does not predict couple or family problems. But research does tell us that dangerous patterns of thinking and behaviors can lead to serious problems. One of these communication patterns is gunny-sacking. Very simply, this is keeping things in and then dumping them all at once. Picture all the unkind words, slights, perceived wrongs, and accusations stuffed into the gunny sack. Then one day when you go to stuff one more thought into the bag, it is full. So you turn the gunny sack upside down on the floor and all the hurt, pain, and anger spill out – right onto your spouse or partner. The next picture isn’t going to be a pretty one.
Managing Conflict: Escalating and De-Escalating is just one of the lessons in a series, Together We Can: Creating a Healthy Future for our Family. This program is for single parents or couples who are in conflicted or unstable relationships and have young children.
Conflict between human beings happens. It happens between adults, between children and even between adults and children. So how do we learn to fight fair?
An article I found from the University of Texas at Austin gives some great ideas on how to have conflict in a ‘fair’ way.
Here are some of their suggestions:
- Deal with only one issue at a time: Stay focused on only one topic. Focus on that one issue until you have resolved it agree to disagree. Then move to the next issue.
- Avoid accusations: Like Donna talked about last week, use the ‘I messages’ and talk about how it makes you feel. Refrain from using the word ‘you’ as much as possible.
- Avoid clamming up: Get the issue out. When you stop communicating about what the issue is it can’t possibly be resolved. Shutting down or becoming silent doesn’t make the issue go away. Keep talking. If you need to take a break, do so but commit to coming back and finishing the conversation.
For more suggestions read the whole article from the University of Texas at Austin.
Share your ‘fighting fair’ techniques with us here!
Let’s jump right in with what I see as one of the best tools for improving communication with your spouse/partner. And in turn that will likely reduce disagreements. It is as simple as using “I” statements instead of “You” statements.
Here’s an example for a “you” message. “You forgot to pick up milk on your way home from work. How stupid can you be?” Or, “I can’t believe how stupid you are. You forgot to get the milk again.” That second set of statements is what we call a “hidden you” message.
Now let’s try a true “I” statement. “I need milk for dinner. There is none left in the refrigerator.” Do you see the difference? When we drop the accusatory and blaming words (and tone), we have a much better chance of getting the problem solved. In this example, what I really need is milk. This isn’t worth a full scale argument between two tired adults at the end of a long work day.
Using “I” statements is a respectful way of having a conversation. It helps you focus on the immediate problem or need, instead of escalating into a battle and bringing in more issues.
Have you tried “I” statements? Do you think this communication tool might work?
Fighting in front of the children creates a family life where conflict is the norm – and this conflict can negatively impact the kids. Fighting with your spouse or partner – or ignoring him or her — will affect your children. As we blog this month, we will explore ways for parents to reduce disagreements with each other. We will also talk about the complex issue of parental conflict and its effect on children. Join us and share your thoughts and experiences as well.