Conflict Resolution, Before or After?

Conflict is best resolved when two persons are able to communicate their separate concerns and together are able to reach compromises which work in the favor of the relationship. The question is, “Do I want to win, or do I want us to win?”

The difference is demonstrated by the approach that a person takes, when dealing with the issue of conflict. There are two options which will produce very different results:

1. The Fireman Approach – waiting for a fire and using various techniques of putting out the fire.

2. The Fire Marshall Approach – identify circumstances which could lead to a fire, and take preemptive action to avoid the fire altogether.

Most people take the first option, waiting for some problem to start working at resolving it. The problem with the Fireman Approach is that you have had a fire. Fires damage things, and sometimes even to the point of total loss. And as with real fires, sometimes the only real solution is that you may have to tear down the complete structure, to be able to build a new one in its place. In human terms, concerning relationships, this means that the couple has a greater chance of ending up in divorce.

Another danger with real fires is that even if the structure itself is not complete destroyed, the loss of personal items, many which will never be replaced, can impose a major emotional trauma on people. Relationships can have the same result; the couple may resolve some traumatic event in their relationship with each other (such as an adulterous affair), and still have linger circumstances which might remain for the duration of their marriage (the loss of full confidence in each other).

Taking the Fireman Approach to a relationship, means that the couple is not willing to commit themselves to the task of learning how to identify possible problems, work out solutions in advance, and then comply with the expectations as agreed. The Fire Marshall Approach requires that type of commitment. A Fire Marshall can inspect a home or building, and identify any situation or circumstance which may possibly lead to a fire, and offer steps which may be taken to avert the possibility of a real fire.

HOW DOES THE FIRE MARSHALL APPROACH WORK?

I call it the Marital Agreement Process.

The idea here is for the couple to identify areas of conflict in the past, and establish agreements that can prevent the same behavior, on the part of both, in the future.

1. Select an issue, problem or a topic of concern (money issues, relatives, sex, friends, people of the opposite sex, etc.).

2. Discuss the intended outcome; what you think should happen in that circumstance or situation in the future.

3. One of you offer a possible solution (I.e. “We could agree to do things this way at those times.”)

4. If the other disagrees, they should offer a compromise (i.e. “What if we did this instead …?”)

5. If the first person still is unsure, they could offer another compromise (i.e. “That’s better but I see a problem, what about this…?”)

6. Once both agree on the intention of the agreement, it needs to be written down on paper.

7. Once written, someone needs to read it out loud. The purpose is to listen to the words.

a. Is there a loop-hole somewhere in there?
b. Are there words that may have different meaning to each of you?
c. Does the agreement bring up other questions?
d. Do you both find the agreement acceptable?
e. Can either of you think of any reasons (good ones) for violating that agreement?
f. Do both of you give your word that you will comply with this agreement?

8. If you find any loop-holes, then either change the written agreement until there is no loop-hole, or add an additional agreement that would cover the loop-hole.

9. If there are any words that could mean different things to each of you, then write down the words and define the meaning that both of you agree upon.

10. If the written agreement prompt other questions, then either correct the agreement to deal with them, or save them for later to deal with separately.

11. Do not make any one agreement too long and convoluted. It is better to have several short and to the point statements.

12. If either of you can think of any (good) reasons for violating any agreement, bring it up now. Later on you will be seen as a liar who should not be trusted.

13. Once you have reviewed the written agreement, understand it, and agree with it, go on to the next agreement.

Each of you should have their own “copy” of the agreement. Neither of you is responsible for reminding the other of the agreements. Each person is responsible for keeping his or her own word. But, both of you are responsible for imposing consequences on the one who violates an agreement.

The issue is TRUST. The consequence needs to reflect the same. Each time trust is violated the consequence must be bigger and longer lasting than before.

If you, as a couple, create a set of agreements, and follow them without exception, you will avoid many future situations which in the past have resulted in arguments and worse. This is the Fire Marshall Approach.

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