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Six Ground Rules for Handling Conflict in Relationships

New Life Ministries

CBN.comSet ground rules to make negotiation pleasant and safe. Most couples view negotiation as a trip to the torture chamber. That’s because their efforts are usually fruitless, and they come away from the experience battered and bruised. Who wants to negotiate when it brings nothing but disappointment and pain? So before you begin to negotiate, set some basic ground rules to make sure that you both enjoy the experience.

Ground Rule 1. Try to be pleasant and cheerful throughout negotiations.
It’s fairly easy to start discussing an issue while in a good mood. But negotiations can open a can of worms, so be prepared for negative emotional reactions. Your partner may begin to feel uncomfortable about something you say. In fact he or she may suddenly inform you that there will be no further discussion. Try to be as positive and cheerful as you can be, especially if your partner says something that offends you.

Ground Rule 2. Put safety first. Don’t make demands, show disrespect, or become angry when you negotiate, even if your partner makes demands, shows disrespect, or becomes angry with you.
Once the cat is out of the bag and you have told your partner what is bothering you or what you want, you have entered one of the most dangerous phases of negotiation. If your partner’s initial reaction hurts your feelings, you are tempted to retaliate. Your Taker is very persuasive at this point, and unless you make a special effort to resist its advice, your negotiation will turn into an argument. But if you can keep each other safe, you will be able to use your intelligence to help you make the changes you both need.

Ground Rule 3. If you reach an impasse and don’t seem to be getting anywhere, or if one of you is starting to make demands, show disrespect, or become angry, stop negotiating and come back to the issue later.
Just because you can’t resolve a problem at a particular point in time doesn’t mean you can’t find an intelligent solution in the future. Don’t let an impasse prevent you from giving yourself a chance to think about the issue. Let it incubate for a while, and you’ll be amazed what your mind can do when the issue comes up later.

Ground Rule 4. Identify the problem from both perspectives.
Once you have set ground rules that guarantee a safe and enjoyable discussion, you are ready to negotiate. But where do you begin? First you must understand the problem from the perspectives of both you and your partner.

Most couples try to resolve a conflict without doing their homework. They don’t fully understand the conflict itself, nor do they understand each other’s perspectives. In many cases, they are not even sure what they really want or what they’re enthusiastically willing to give. When the issue is clarified, the solution is immediately apparent and the conflict is resolved.

Respect is the key to success in this phase of negotiation. Once the issue has been identified and you hear each other’s perspective, it is extremely important to avoid trying to straighten each other out. Remember that your goal is enthusiastic agreement, and there is no way you will be enthusiastic if you reject each other’s perspective. In fact the only way you will reach an enthusiastic agreement is if you come up with a solution that accommodates each other’s perspective.

Ground Rule 5. Brainstorm with abandon.
You’ve set the ground rules. You’ve identified the conflict from each other’s perspective. Now you’re ready for the creative part – looking for solutions that you think will make you both happy. I know that can seem impossible if you and your partner have drifted into incompatibility. But the climb to compatibility has to start somewhere, and if you put your minds to it, you’ll think of options that please you both.

The secret to understanding your partner is to try to think like your partner’s Taker thinks. It’s easy to appeal to your partner’s Giver. If she really loves me, she’ll let me do this. Or, he’ll be thoughtful enough to agree with that, I’m sure. But lasting peace must be forged with your partner’s Taker, so your solutions must appeal to your partner’s most selfish instincts. At the same time, they must also appeal to your own selfish instincts.

When you brainstorm, quantity is often more important than quality. Let your minds run wild; go with just about any thought that might satisfy both of your Takers. If you let your creativity run free, you are more likely to find a lasting solution.

Carry a pad of paper or pocket notebook with you so you can write down ideas as you think of them throughout the day. Some problems may require days of thought and pages of ideas. But keep in mind your goal – a solution that will appeal to both of your Takers.

Ground Rule 6. Choose the solution that meets the conditions of the Policy of Joint Agreement – mutual and enthusiastic agreement.
After brainstorming, you will have come up with some good and some bad solutions. Now you need to sort through them. Good solutions are those both you and your partner consider desirable. Bad solutions, on the other hand, take only the feelings of one partner into account at the expense of the other. The best solution is the one that makes you and your partner enthusiastic.

Many problems are relatively easy to solve. You will be amazed at how quickly you can come to an enthusiastic agreement for some problems when you have decided to hold off on any action until you both agree. That’s because when you know you must take each other’s feelings into account, you become increasingly aware of what it will take to reach a mutual agreement. Instead of considering options that clearly are not in your partner’s best interest, you reject them immediately and begin to think of options you know would make both you and your partner happy. You will be much smarter when you direct your mind to find only smart solutions.

So if you have tried to follow my advice but cant’ seem to negotiate with each other regardless of how hard you try, addiction may be the culprit. In fact a good way to determine if you are addicted to a substance or activity is to see if you can follow the Policy of Joint Agreement after you have agreed to it. If you find you can’t, you may need professional help to overcome your addiction. But once it’s overcome, the Policy of Joint Agreement will help you from returning to it later.

Excerpted from The One: A Field Guide to Relationships that Last by Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. Used by permission of New Life Ministries. New Life Ministries has a variety of resources on men, women, and relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE or visit

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