How to talk when you are having a conflict is important. We discuss four parts of healthy conflict that form a reference point for communicating well: need, problem, cause, and solution.

020: The Melody of Marriage— Conflict, Part 02

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Truly Equal is a marriage podcast created by Kyle and Christi Playford. Our goal is to talk about marriage from a fresh perspective. We tell stories about our lives, talk about how marriage is like a love song, and give practical solutions to the problems we've encountered.

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The 4 Parts of Healthy Conflict

Now that we know the 3 ways that people deal with conflict (deny, suppress, or accept), it is time to talk about how we talk through a conflict. Last week, Christi and I spent the better part of an afternoon in the middle of a conflict, with both of us missing what the other person was saying. After letting our emotions cool we discovered that I had been talking about the cause of our problem, but I had been labeling it the problem. This created unnecessary confusion. We solved the conflict, but then realized we needed to improve on how we talked through a conflict. Once we wrote everything down, it really helped us, and we think it can help you.

So what are the 4 parts of a healthy conflict? They are: Need, Problem, Cause, Solution. I will discuss each below. 



According to the dictionary, a need is to "require (something) because it is essential or very important." Another definition is "a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism." Needs are the hardest thing to figure out and address when having a conflict. Why? Because you have to first say your need (which is very difficult in our culture today), then be willing to listen to your partner's thoughts about that need and open to changing how you think about that need. For example, I have a need to exercise and work out, so naturally I come up with solutions to solve that need. But just saying those solutions is not the best way approach a conflict. If I simply said my need, and was willing to think about my need differently, then we can have a much healthier discussion. Those two steps together are not easy, but I truly believe if you try them your partner will understand you better, and you may end up with a better solution than you could have hoped for. 



Once you identify the need, the problem is straightforward in our experience. To continue my exercise example, I had a need to work out consistently, but I wasn't doing that, so the problem is that my need wasn't being met. 



Cause may seem like an unnecessary step, but it's not. Usually when Christi and I come to end of the problem stage, we will have different causes of why the problem exists. For example, in my mind Christi wasn't listening to my need to exercise, so that's why the problem existed. For Christi, the cause was that I never verbalized my need to exercise; I just told her these crazy unrealistic solutions that didn't work for our marriage. Our causes were different. Once we verbalized this to each other, we came up with a solution where both of us changed. The reason why cause is so important is this: it's the best way we have found to come to a compromise. 



After discussing need, problem, and cause, the solution is definitely the most fun step. Hopefully by this point, you and your partner have listened well to each other, maybe cried a few tears, and you are ready to talk about change. For example, I was able to increase the amount of times per week that I work out without committing to an unrealistic goal. Christi agreed and we were able to solve the conflict that worked for both of us. 

The best solutions are when both people feel heard, understood, and ready to change. Working through conflict doesn't have to be an argument. Going back to the basics of need, problem, cause, and solution helped us to have healthier conflict.


Question: What are your needs? What are the needs of your partner? 


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