James L Creighton Ph.D.

Loving Through Your Differences

Using Everything We've Learned

Integrating these skills and concepts into everyday living.

Posted Apr 03, 2020

My posts over the past year have paralleled the chapter topics in my book Loving Through Your Differences. We’ve now reached the end of those topics and I want to spend a few minutes talking about how to use these concepts and skills in your life.

Much in these posts is asking you to replace old ways of thinking and acting. It is asking you to use these new concepts and skills “under fire,” while you are in conflict.

A short post is, at most, a brief introduction to a concept or skill. I’m reminded of learning a new golf or tennis swing. You can know what the new swing looks like, and even agree that you need to learn it. But learning a new swing takes practice, practice, practice. It’s not just your head that needs to understand the new swing; there must be enough practice so that there is a kind of muscle memory. This is true of the concepts and skills in this book, as well.

If you choose to adopt these concepts and skills, you need to commit yourself to a program.

Helping Each Other

If you are exploring this material as a couple, you have an advantage. You can make commitments to each other that will help keep you on track. I suggest you reach an agreement to use the skills presented early in these blogs, including active listening, “I” messages, and collaborative problem solving.

I suggest that you seek out a training course that teaches active listening and I messages. I first learned these skills as a parent, attending Parent Effectiveness Training. PET still puts on courses worldwide, and I can recommend them. There may be other local resources. Just remember you need the kind of training that will give you practice, practice, practice.

Then I recommend that you and your partner agree on those ground rules you will observe during fights to avoid further escalation. Fights don’t get out of control all by themselves. It is our own behaviors that make them escalate. It’s easy, when someone has a different way of perceiving reality, to begin to see that person as an adversary. Learn to identify behaviors that cause fights to escalate and agree with your partner to stop them. Remember the maxim: Protect your relationship even when you are in conflict. You want there to be some “we” left, once the fight is over.

My wife and I have found that beyond the general principle “avoid escalation,” some of the most useful ground rules are: Don’t expand the issue; don’t use other people as ammunition; and avoid name-calling.

The tricky part is reminding each other when you violate the rules—and you will. If you both are really committed to the rules, a gentle reminder is usually enough to pull back from your violation (although not without some grinding of teeth). Remember to express feelings rather than blaming or accusing.

Fundamentals

These posts have also presented some different ways of thinking about conflict. This provides the context for the skills practice. \Below are some of the most important principles. If you’d like more explanation of any of the concepts, look back at the earlier blogs. Here’s the summary:

  • Agree that each person has a right to his or her way of seeing and experiencing things (his or her “emotional reality”) while affirming and trusting one's own.
  • Communicate your reality without finding fault with other people’s realities.
  • Listen with both your head and heart in order to achieve understanding—even though you may continue to disagree.
  • Use a problem-solving process that says, “We have a problem,” not “You are the problem.”
  • When you are struggling over values differences, look for the positive good that your partner supports, even when your partner opposes what you think is important
  • Seek out new ways of perceiving reality upon which you can both agree.
  • Reframe the situation in such a way that it opens new options or permits you to exercise personal capabilities that you’ve inhibited until now.
  • Reframe your life story, as needed, to create options and free up capabilities.
  • Examine your “self-talk” to be sure it is serving you well, and re-program your self-talk when needed.
  • Get to know the different parts of your personality and get them talking to each other.
  • Accept that differences can make your relationships richer.
  • The stronger the relationship, the more differences you can handle.
  • Live with the disagreement—engage it emotionally—don't gloss it over and pretend it went away.

Having used these approaches, I can predict one thing: If you and your partner commit to this path, you will grow together, and your life will be richer. Your differences will indeed become teachers that enrich your lives. You will grow together in ways that are both surprising and exciting.