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Turn On Your Inner Light

How to Have a Constructive Conflict

by Debbie Mandel, MA

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How to Have a Constructive Conflict Some of us bolt out the door as soon as we sniff the onset of relationship strife. Others get caught in a loop of purposeless repetitive fighting. Conflict shakes up our sense of balance and belonging. After all, we are looking for smiles and applause, not criticism and confrontation.

Most arguments between men and women occur because women want to talk and explore the issue from all angles and men just want to fix it quickly. Once you understand that the idea of just talking can be a frightening experience for a man, and that not being understood undermines a woman’s self-worth, the solution becomes simple: Blend your two styles. To insure that he doesn’t feel cornered, talk to him while he is doing something else and don’t make eye contact. Discussing issues while you work next to him gives him a sense that sharing his feelings will lead to a tangible solution. For example, both of you can be washing the car, cleaning up the yard, or painting some cabinets and relating what’s on your mind. Basically, each has crossed over to the other side to experience the gender difference. You are doing and he is talking!

Words can be either musical instruments or the weapons of conflict. The right word will clear up misunderstandings while the wrong word will alienate. When we communicate, we need to be aware of what we are saying both rationally and emotionally, what tone of voice and body language we are using and how what we are saying will be received. We have to evaluate the listener. While many of us have been trained to say what we think, we often need a reminder to think before we speak. Emily Dickinson said, “A word said, is never dead.”

We can attack a person and force him or her to use self-defense like a cornered animal. Or we can hide our true feelings and reactions to the other party, causing us to feel depressed with the nagging thought, “I should have said...” or the “Never mind” statement which simmers beneath the surface. However, if we objectively and calmly express our feelings, reality as we see it, then the other party will hear us and not feel upset or build a wall.

Timing and rhythm impact relationships and during a conflict that rhythm is broken. When we are in a conflict, timing our negotiation with the rhythm of the other person is important. Although we might be ready to speak, the other person might not be ready to listen. We have to respect someone else’s timing.

Here is how to have a constructive conflict and achieve the results you want:
  • Everyone has an ego and everyone wants to be right – so let them! Aim for an equitable compromise
  • Limit communicating your position to 2 minutes; otherwise you risk being off the topic, repetitive or venting.
  • When possible, ask your spouse when it is a good time to discuss a problem.
  • Choose your words carefully. Make sure the other person will hear them the way that you intended.
  • Be respectful to your spouse.
Where Guys Get Off Track:
  • When she talks emotionally about a problem, just listen attentively. She doesn’t necessarily want a solution. She wants to make her problem sound real to you – that it is not in her head, something she imagined. Pay attention to her. Don’t internalize, or plan what you will say next.
  • If you are asked to do something you don’t feel like doing right now, for example you are watching the big game, tell her that you will take care of it later and be sure to do it! This is like establishing a good credit rating for future purchases.
Where Gals Get Off Track:
  • Take the why out of your questions which make him feel like an accused criminal on the witness stand. For example, “Why didn’t you call me the whole day?”
  • Take the intensifiers out of your speech which upset him. Stick to the simple structure of subject, verb and object. Make sure to be as literal and as specific as possible – avoid the metaphors and symbolism.
  • Let him talk without interrupting. You wanted him to open up, so let him speak.
Now change the energy and take it to another room – can you think of where?

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, a stress-management specialist, the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City, produces a wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more please visit

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