I hear from people all the time that they just want to stop all the conflict. Conflict can look like fighting, or often couples feel a constant, low level of apathy or frustration, not knowing how to work through the struggle to connect.
After all, no one gave us instructions on how to have a loving relationship and many of us grew up around relationships that didn’t work!
Maybe you’ve heard the adage “you can either be right, or you can be connected.” But what helps people connect?
Values are a high-leverage way to create connection.
What are values? In short, values are what make life meaningful to you; they guide your decisions and actions; they are our internal compass of right and wrong. Examples of values are honesty, creativity, freedom, security, family, love, or service to others.
People usually fight because they have different values. For example if a couple is fighting about money, the surface conversation is about what to buy and what to save. When fighting about money, people usually stay on the surface, and decide that the other person is immature, or rigid. But if we go underneath the surface to what is most deeply meaningful to each of them, we’ll see their values. The spender may value spontaneity, fun, beauty, and freedom; while the saver may value security, efficiency, or leaving a legacy.
Values don’t inherently conflict. For example, there’s a way to have a life full of both fun AND efficiency. So if both people can develop compassion and understanding for each other’s values, they can create a solution that honors both of them.
5 Steps to Resolve Conflict Using Shared Values
1) Find values that are MORE IMPORTANT than the conflict.
For example, you may value connection, intimacy, compassion, listening, being open minded, growth, or family MORE than being right, and that helps you listen to the other person’s point of view. So pick one of the above shared values that helps you step out of your point of view momentarily, and listen to the other person.
2) With an attitude of curiosity, take turns asking questions and listening to each person, to uncover what is most deeply meaningful to them about their position.
One person shares for about 10-15 minutes, and then you switch.
For example, if the spender values spontaneity, you can ask them:
- What’s important to you about spontaneity?
- What does being spontaneous provide for you?
- What are your core beliefs or ethics behind your point of view?
- Is there a story behind this for you, or does this relate to your history in some way?
- Is there a fear that comes up for you, in not having this value honored?
- What other ways can you get this value met?
- What would be your ideal solution here?
3) When you are the listener, validate the other person’s point of view.
You don’t have to agree with all of it, but tell the other person what makes sense about what they shared. For example, you might say, “I see how spontaneity makes life meaningful to you. When you’re being spontaneous, you light up, feel your creativity, and you can enjoy life. Otherwise you feel too boxed in, like you’re wearing clothes that are too tight. That makes sense to me.”
4) When the first person feels heard, switch, and ask the same questions to the other person, with curiosity and validation.
The intention is for both people to feel compassion and connection to the values underneath their point of view. The creative solution comes out of the connection that both people feel when they are heard and understood.
5) Create a plan that honors both people’s values.
A simple example in the money conflict is to create room in the budget for “pocket cash” that you can spend on whatever you want, while still saving something every month. This solution can only be created when people honor each other’s values.
This sounds simple and it is but not necessarily easy when you try to do it on your own. I have used this strategy in my own life, as well as with many couples, to create movement on issues that have felt stuck for years!
My clients tell me that it really helps to have the support of an outside person to get to the heart of the matter, and to help you see solutions that both people feel good about.
I’d love to hear from you! Use these five steps, and share how it goes in the comments below!