First I want to talk about resolution: what it is and what it looks like. Relationship counselors used to talk about compromise as the best way to solve problems. The other options are I win/You lose or I lose/You win so I win/You win seemed to be much better. The problem is that with compromise you also have I lose/You lose. The reason for this is both parties to the conflict come to the table with their goals and solution and then you play the game of give and take until you find a compromise you can both agree to (a little of your idea and a little of mine). Resolution is better.In conflict resolution both (or all) parties to a problem come together with no ideas that they are fighting for or defending as the ideal solution. Together you sit down and take certain steps that will, ideally, lead you to a solution that is considered the best by all involved. It is truly I win/You win and no one loses. So, let’s look at the steps involved.
1) Identify the problem. This might seem obvious but when you start examining it you may find that different people see the problem from different angles and your definition of the problem may be too narrow. This is the time you learn to see the situation from the perspective of the others involved. When the others are young children you will need to explore your imagination and try to get into their world in order to examine how they might see the problem. This will increase your sensitivity to your child and doing it often enough will actually result in less conflict that you need to work on resolving.
2) Brainstorm solutions. During this step you are not passing any judgment on the solutions put forth. Write down everything said and say everything that comes to your mind. Every solution is worthy of being considered and the wilder the better because that is helping you start to think outside the box. If you only put forth the reasonable or logical ideas you will often overlook the ideal solution.
3) Evaluate solutions. Now that you have a list of possible solutions you go back and evaluate them. Talk about each one and think through to how it will work in reality. Some ideas will obviously not be feasible or practical; some will be downright silly. Now is the time to note all of that and narrow down your list. You may find your list lacking and go back to do some additional brainstorming, or you may refine a solution that is close but not quite.
4) Select a solution. You may find you have one or two reasonable solutions but during this step you narrow it down to the one you will try. Everyone involved must agree on the solution you will try but this will be easier once people understand the last step (which we’ll get to after . . .)
5) Execute the solution. It’s time to put it into practice and see how it works. If it solves the problem then your work is done. If it doesn’t, you still have one more step.
6) Have a planned time to evaluate the solution chosen. Make sure you meet again to discuss how the solution is working. If everyone reports they are happy with the solution then you can continue using it until when and if it isn’t working or some new problem arises. If there was more than one possible solution you may choose to try the next favored idea and repeat steps 5 and 6. If the chosen solution didn’t work but there were no other solutions put forth you may go back to the beginning of the steps and try again.
Usually the reasons for this process not yielding a working solution will be either failure to fully define the problem (you may have missed someone’s perspective or defined it too broadly or narrowly) or difficulty in thinking outside the box during the brainstorming process. In a minute I’ll give you a sample problem solving/resolution, but first I want to talk about where boundaries fit into this process.Boundaries, for anyone who doesn’t know, are the semi permeable barriers around us in many areas of life. Our skin is a clear example, but we have boundaries around our feelings and our likes/dislikes also. Semi permeable means they are solid enough to keep the bad out but permeable enough to let the good in. There are also times we are called to lay them down which falls under the discussion of loving our neighbor and laying down our life for them.
We are being given notice that a boundary is being crossed (or about to be crossed – the earlier you can identify this process the better you can deal with it) when we feel uncomfortable. It might be someone calling out of the blue and asking us to watch their children while they go somewhere when we have a busy day. We may feel a conflict between obligation to our family and our friend (and maybe ourselves).
We may feel overwhelmed when someone calls from the committee and tries to get us to take on the burden of someone else’s dropped ball. We may have rules that we play in our head on old tapes that get us into situations where we realize too late that we’ve allowed people to violate our boundaries. These rules may include (but are certainly not limited to): you can’t say ‘no’ to the pastor; a real friend would do . . .; if I love/like him/her I should . . . ; etc. We may believe we can’t say no to our mother or father, or that to do so would be to dishonor them. We may believe all sorts of things that leave us overextending ourselves and feeling like a martyr.
Personally I have come to realize that I do not deal well with change and I have an initial reaction of ‘no’ to many things. In the past the two ways I’ve dealt with this have included saying ‘no’ and missing out on many good things OR saying ‘yes’ despite my initial reaction and then regretting having committed myself to something I don’t want to do or overextending myself. To deal with this I’ve learned to do two things. The first is to reevaluate my decisions if I begin to feel uncomfortable and get myself out of them if that is feasible.
The second is to, if possible, not answer right away. I will ask for 5 or 10 minutes to process some new suggestion or idea. This gives me a chance to run it through the works and see how I really feel about it, beyond my initial reaction, and give myself some transition time. I work through all the potential outcomes—especially the negative ones—and determine if I can deal with those things at this time. I’ve found that usually I’m willing to do what I’ve been asked. Sometimes, however, I’m not and when that is the case I feel more confident now saying ‘no’ and not feeling guilty.
What does this have to do with problem solving? When we are identifying and defining the problem we need to be aware of our boundaries and what is making this a problem. The fact is, what is a problem for us might not be a problem for someone else. That’s okay—but this is often why real problems arise when we live with other people. Your spouse or your child might not share your boundary and not realize they are doing something that you are bothered by.
When you define the problem you are making everyone aware of your boundary and engaging everyone in finding a solution that will meet EVERYONE’S needs—including yours. Likewise you may need to be sensitive to other people’s boundaries that might be different from yours and areas where you may be violating their boundaries and causing their needs to go unmet. If anyone has a problem it’s time to have some resolution.
Also, during the step where you evaluate solutions and, ultimately, select one, you will need to make sure that you are evaluating them in light of everyone’s boundaries. For example, if your child has abandonment issues then “leaving the room” might not be the ideal solution when they begin doing something that bothers you—even if this idea best meets your goals in the situation.
And not only does a solution need to meet everyone’s boundary needs, it must not violate someone’s boundaries in order to meet someone else’s. For example, in a marriage where both spouses have incompatible sexual drives the ideal solutions will not include daily sex or once a month sex—neither will they include one person having no say in when sex occurs or attempts to induce guilt through Scripture or other means. This is not true resolution.
So, since those are the two examples I’ve given let’s do some hypothetical resolving of these issues.
- 1) Identify the problem. When your son doesn’t get his way he shrieks and it
hurts mommies ears.
- Always give him his way
- Never give him his way so he gets used to it
- Make him go into time out in his room so mommy can’t hear him
- Mommy goes into time out in her room so she doesn’t have to listen
- Gag him
- Run away (mommy, that is)
- Cry when it happens
- Beg him to stop (you might be including things you’ve tried)
- Demand he stop—threatening to take away his toys
- Take away his toys so he realizes you’re serious
- Clearly state the boundary, “You are hurting my ears. That is abusive. I am
going to walk away.”
- 2) Brainstorm solutions.
- 3) Evaluate solutions.
- Always give him his way—NOT PRACTICAL AND WON’T TEACH ANY
VALUABLE LESSONS I WANT HIM TO LEARN
- Never give him his way so he gets used to it—THIS IS UNFAIR AND
DOESN’T TAKE INTO ACCOUNT HIS VERY REAL NEEDS
- Make him go into time out in his room so mommy can’t hear him—THIS IS
PUNITIVE AND HE HAS ABANDONMENT ISSUES
- Mommy goes into time out in her room so she doesn’t have to listen—I LIKE
THIS ONE BUT IT STILL DOESN’T DEAL WITH HIS ABANDONMENT ISSUES
- Gag him—WOULD MAKE HIM QUIET BUT WOULD BE ABUSIVE AND NOT GOOD FOR EITHER OF US; DON’T WANT TO GO DOWN THAT ROAD AT ALL
- Run away (mommy, that is)—I SURE FEEL LIKE IT BUT, NO
- Cry when it happens—SOMETIMES I DO THIS BUT IT DOESN’T HELP
- SO IT’S NOT A GOOD SOLUTION
- Beg him to stop (you might be including things you’ve tried)—YEP, DOESN’T WORK EITHER AND DOESN’T CONVEY MUCH OF MY AUTHORITY
- Demand he stop—threatening to take away his toys—HASN’T WORKEDSO PROBABLY WON’T WORK—IS ALSO PUNITIVE
- Bear Hug—WORKS SOMETIMES BUT NOT ALWAYS. DOESN’TLEAVE HIM ABANDONED BUT PUTS ME CLOSER TO THE
SCREAMING SO ISN’T MY IDEAL. WOULD WORK IF HE STOPPED SHRIEKING AND GOT PHYSICALLY AGGRESSIVE.
- Take away his toys so he realizes you’re serious—DEFINITELY PUNITIVE
AND NOT IN ANY WAY RELATED TO THE REAL ISSUE
- Make sure his real needs are met—THIS IS IMPORTANT, BUT
SOMETIMES IT’S WANTS HE’S UPSET ABOUT
- Clearly state the boundary, “You are hurting my ears. That is abusive. I am
- going to walk away. You may come find me when you are ready to speak
- kindly”—THIS SOUNDS GBD, CLEARLY STATES MY BOUNDARY AND MY INTENTION, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ABANDONMENT ISSUES? IS THERE A WAY I CAN HAVE MY REAL BOUNDARY PROTECTED WHILE HONORING HIS ABANDONMENT ISSUES? WHAT IF I DISENGAGE FROM THE DRAMA, BY READING A BOOK (MAYBE ABOUT GBD/PD) AND STAYING PRESENT UNTIL HE IS READY TO BE CALM. I COULD SAY, “You are hurting my ears. That is abusive. I am going to read this book until you are ready to speak kindly to me and then I will listen to you again.”
4) Select a solution. I’m going to try a combination of the things listed. First, Make sure his real needs are met. This way if he’s hungry, thirsty, tired or needing a hug I can meet the need and the problem might resolve itself. If it doesn’t, I will clearly state, “You are hurting my ears. That is abusive. I am going to read this book until you are ready to speak kindly to me and then I will listen to you again.” In order to do this I need to make sure I have some of my favorite parenting books around the house and handy. If he continues screaming and I start to lose my cool I will go into time out in my room so I don’t have to listen. If he stops shrieking but gets physical I will put him in the Bear Hug.
5) Execute the solution. This is where you do it. The next time he starts shrieking because he isn’t getting his way you start by making sure that all his real needs are met and then progress from there.
6) Have a planned time to evaluate the solution chosen. You may find that the first time you do this it works great. You may find that you need to alter one or more parts of your solution. You may find that nothing is working. If this is the case you may want to add some things to your brainstorming that includes investigating diet changes or having your child evaluated by a professional. This shrieking can be normal but it might also be a symptom of something more seriously wrong. If this is the case you might continue handling the situation this way but you can adjust your expectations of what an ideal outcome might look like.
This was our case and doing these things allowed me to keep my calm and handle my son’s shrieking while I knew that he would likely not stop (and some days didn’t stop from morning until night). As a solution this allowed me to keep in control of me when I couldn’t control him. For most normal children this solution, or something similar, will result in the child getting control and will change the dynamic so that you can deal with the situation without the shrieking.
Let’s move on to the second challenge:
1) Identify the problem. My husband is not having his very real needs for sexual intimacy met but I am feeling touched out at the end of the day and overwhelmed with mothering. I have health issues that are probably limiting my sex drive but I have committed to making sure my husband isn’t suffering in this area.
2) Brainstorm solutions.
- He gets to demand it whenever he wants and I just have to do it
- He needs to meet his own needs
- I can get evaluated for my health so that I’m not overlooking real help that might be available to me
- We could have a date night every week where we hire a sitter and go to a hotel
- He can tell me when he’s in the mood and give me 1-3 days to gear up
- We can set a “date night” each week where we will make sure we have sex—He will have this to look forward to and I will be able to get ready for it
3) Evaluate solutions.
- He gets to demand it whenever he wants and I just have to do it—NOT RESPECTFUL OF ME AND WILL LEAD TO RESENTMENT
- He needs to meet his own needs—DEFINITELY NOT SOMETHING HE IS INTERESTED IN DOING OR IS IDEAL FOR OUR MARRIAGE
- I can get evaluated for my health so that I’m not overlooking real help that might be available to me—THIS IS GOOD BUT ISN’T ENOUGH OF A SOLUTION
- We could have a date night every week where we hire a sitter and go to a hotel—THIS WILL NOT MEET THE NEEDS OF OUR CHILDREN AND IS NOT SOMETHING WE ARE WILLING TO DO
- He can tell me when he’s in the mood and give me 1-3 days to gear up—THIS COULD WORK
- We can set a “date night” each week where we will make sure we have sex—He will have this to look forward to and I will be able to get ready for it—I LIKE THIS ONE BUT WE’D NEED TO PICK A GOOD DAY
- 4) Select a solution. This was a real situation we faced in our marriage. And on this one we first selected “DH can tell me when he’s in the mood and give me 1-3 days to gear up”
5) Execute the solution. We put it into practice.
6) Have a planned time to evaluate the solution chosen. This solution ended up causing me a lot of stress trying to make sure I found time and energy during the three-day time limit. It was working for him but I wasn’t fully happy with it. When we went back to brainstorm some more we added the two ideas that we ended up going with.
These were “I can get evaluated for my health so that I’m not overlooking real help that might be available to me” and “We can set a “date night” each week where we will make sure we have sex—He will have this to look forward to and I will be able to get ready for it”. When we talked about what night to set we decided to try the night between his two days off for the week. He agreed to put more effort into helping me parent during day one so that I could have more energy and not be overwhelmed by the time the kids went to bed. He also tried to make our time together romantic by renting movies and other things I enjoyed that were not just sexual. And the next morning he made breakfast while I got to sleep in to make up for not going to bed earlier and staying up with him. My health has improved and our situation has changed a lot since that time so we’re not still using that solution but it worked for a long time while the problem remained defined as it was. We’ve also pulled out this solution at various stressful or busy times in our marriage. Even with the birth of our twins we were able to maintain fairly regular intimacy during the first year. It took commitment, but was well worth it.
I hope that these real situations and examples can give you some idea of what conflict resolution looks like and how it can be used to meet the very real needs of everyone involved. Ideally the people involved will give their own ideas during the brainstorming session, but with young children you might need to “think” for them. Make sure if you need to return to the brainstorming session that you update ideas for them as well—your solution might not have worked because of a failure to take into account all of your child’s needs.
Of course not every “problem” requires such formal work and the solutions might be obvious. In fact, the more effort you put into developing your conflict resolution skills the easier you will see the working solutions to most things life throws at you. But when you can’t see the solution, or when you are bumping heads on what to try, coming to the table to find a solution for everyone is the best way to solve the problem and meet the needs of everyone involved.