Conflict Resolution: It C.A.N. be done! 

Scott thinks a dream vacation is camping, but his wife would much rather visit relatives.  The vacation date is getting closer and they have not been able to agree.  Now what?

All marriages have conflict. We disagree over big things and small things. We find ourselves squabbling about everything from how to channel surf to how to raise the kids. We have different preferences and varied tastes, so disagreement is part of every married couples’ life. How do we resolve these conflicts in a healthy way?

I suggest a simple and effective model called CAN:

  • Communication,
  • Appreciation, and
  • Negotiation.

I use it in my counseling practice and my own marriage, and it works.  If couples can learn the simple tools of CAN, they can be successful conflict resolvers.

C: Communication involves more than just speaking and listening. It involves more than just understanding the words being used. Two people can speak the same language and have the same knowledge of vocabulary but not really communicate. Communication involves listening in such a way that when you rephrase what your partner has said, it is clear to the speaker that he or she has been heard. Communication is not agreeing with your partner. It is being careful to listen to the message (words, tone of voice, body language, and facial expression) to such a degree that you could present your partner’s idea accurately to a third party.

One model for communication, typically called active listening, means listening to your partner, maintaining eye contact, facing the speaker, nodding appropriately as you hear what is being said, and paraphrasing what was said. There is no rebuttal, no correction, no mind reading, and no interrupting. The speaker keeps his or her statements brief to make it easier for the listener to paraphrase manageable thoughts. Once the thoughts of the first speaker are expressed and paraphrased, the roles shift and the speaker becomes the listener and the listener the speaker. This process takes place enough times so that both parties feel heard.

A: Appreciation means respect. Again, this does not mean agreeing with the ideas or beliefs of your spouse.  It does mean having enough respect for your partner to value her position. It is possible to disagree with someone while appreciating their right to have a different opinion.

This stage of conflict resolution may be the hardest. It goes against our natures to think that an opinion different from our own can have validity. The reason we believe something is true is, in part, because we believe other ideas are false. So if our partner’s idea is different from our own, it’s tempting to conclude it is wrong. But this does not prevent the process from moving forward. It is possible to believe something to be true, but to believe someone else has a right to think differently. And that is all it takes. All it takes is enough respect for another person created in the image of God.

N: Negotiation, finding a possible solution to the conflict, is much easier if the first two steps are handled well. Negotiation is more than compromise. Though compromise is often part of negotiation, it also involves cooperation, concession, and conciliation.

We understand compromise to involve give and take. It means finding a middle ground. It means I give and you give. It means we both get a little of what we want and give a little on what we don’t want. But negotiation also means cooperation or working together to come up with a solution. It also means concession or giving in to the desires and ideas of another when you are convinced of a better idea. Negotiation also means conciliation. Sometimes, just for the sake of harmony in the relationship and peace of mind (ours or our partners) we give in. We let our partner’s desires and wishes rule, even though we believe our own desires and wishes to be superior.

You CAN use these simple tools to improve your conflict resolution skills, and your marriage.

Written By: Timothy R. Holler, Ed.D., LPC, MHSP


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