Note – here are the links to my two former related posts: Introduction and entry number one: Two of the Big Three Basic Marital Challenges. Follow up and entry number two: Sex and Intimacy Issues, and Developing Yourself as an Individual.
I’ve managed three different state or national surveys asking individuals what they think the area is in which they need the most help for their relationship. The answers? Every single time, “Conflict Resolution” comes out as the number one response, and “Communication” comes out as number two. Every. Single. Time.
When I talk to people about what they are thinking when they answer “Conflict Resolution,” their answers basically hone in on the first word: conflict. They feel, sense, are engaged in, or really demonstrate (quite loudly) conflict in one way or another. They’re not really thinking about “conflict” as a problem to be solved. Rather, they’re thinking about the emotions, feelings and dynamics involved when conflict takes place. Is it this way for you? How about someone you know who has talked about conflict resolution…or just conflict? Are they thinking “find a solution,” or are they thinking, “I hate that we’re having conflict and wish it would stop or get better?” Granted, many want solutions and sometimes they try so hard at reasoning or trying to find solutions that it creates even more conflict! By and large, conflict feels horrible. But it doesn’t have to be…
Let’s talk for a moment about “Communication,” the number two issue for the general population. (Ha! I wrote “talk” about communication – smile). How do you describe couple communication? How do you describe GOOD and/or BAD couple communication? Again, many if not most people initially gravitate toward what is NOT working for them when they try to communicate, as opposed to what they’d LIKE to see or be doing. Like conflict resolution, people have emotions or feelings attached to memories or impressions of how they communicate with one another. They want to feel good when they finish a conversation – instead of bad.
People try all sorts of things to make bad communication stop. They avoid, they leave, they press harder, they pursue, they say the same things over with more intensity – because perhaps saying it again and harder will help? However, much about how couples communicate is hard-wired into them from the beginning: their personalities, their physiological or biological make-up, how they were raised and how they learned communication from their own families, etc. So, when it comes down to it, sometimes couples are left with feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, rejection, loneliness, invalidation, sadness or even defeat. But they don’t have to be…
There are basically two parts to competently resolving conflict and competently communicating: The inside parts and the outside parts. The “inside” parts have to do with your emotions, how you express them, how you understand them and how you manage them while interacting with your partner. The “outside” parts have to do with skills…teachable, learnable, doable skills that help you prove to yourself and to your partner that you CAN resolve conflict. You CAN communicate. And, you CAN feel good about both when all is said and done.
So, in no specific order, here are my recommendations on books to help you improve your overall communication and conflict resolution skills. I might make an “inside” or “outside” or “both” note beside them. So, now you know what I’ll mean by those comments. Here we go:
Fighting for your Marriage: Positive Steps for Preventing Divorce and Preserving a Lasting Love, by Markman, Stanley and Blumberg. There is also a Christian version entitled: A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathan, McCain and Bryan. Both of these books are primarily “outside” books. They focus mainly on skills building and give you activities to “do” in order to improve your interactions. I’ve heard complaints that the first chapter is really hard to get through – I would agree if I were a person not interested in research. Please don’t let the first chapter set the tone for the rest of the book. In fact, if you can’t stand to read research in order to understand the context of a book, I would even suggest skipping it. You could go back to it if you’d like, but I don’t want that first chapter to turn you away from what really is solid information.
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Susan Johnson. I have male friends who love this book, and I have female friends who just don’t get it. So, just because the title might lend you to think that it isn’t so gender-neutral, it really is. This is an “inside” book. It focuses more on your attachment to each other and the emotionally focused interactions you are having, or need to have, in order to help your relationship.
The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Scared, Hurt… by Harriet Lerner. This is an inside/outside book. I mentioned Dr. Lerner’s books in my earlier post, but I’m mentioning them again. Couples “dance” together every day. Whether you’re crashing and burining, or waltzing gracefully is a tricky business. I love these books and recommend them without reservation.
The Divorce Remedy, by Michelle Weiner Davis. This is mostly an “outside” book, but gets at some important “inside” feelings brewing when a marriage or relationship is in critical condition. Conflict resolution problems or communication issues can decay so horribly that people want a divorce. This book helps a couple create step-by-step solutions in order to slow down a rapidly cycling process between the two of you, set goals, take baby steps, and calculate progress. I highly recommend this book in conjunction with a therapist if you feel your relationship is in critical need of the emergency room.
Okay, I need to tell you that there are relationship books for teens, books for specific ethnic or cultural couples, books for having more fun together, books for growing old together, etc. etc. ETC! However, this essay is just to cover the basics. Remember, “I don’t recommend books because people and couples are so different.” But, if I did…I’d recommend those I’ve mentioned in the last three posts, and feel pretty good about doing it. Good luck to you or those in your life who could use a few good books to have some better years ahead of them. And, remember – YOU are the best book critic around. If you don’t like something, try something else. A book has to fit with you and for you…so don’t second guess your choice if you decide to look further than these three posts for help. Have a good one ~ Kelly