In any relationship, and especially in intimate partnerships impacted by infidelity, disagreements and even outright arguments are inevitable. This is actually not a bad thing. In fact, if partners can learn how to argue productively, they can learn about one another and actually improve rather than damage their sense of connection. The following “Respectful Conflict Agreement” has helped countless couples turn their disagreements into relationship growth opportunities. We are printing it here and we hope that if your relationship is struggling, you and your partner might consider implementing these guidelines.
RESPECTFUL CONFLICT AGREEMENT
The purpose of this agreement is to create a safe and intimate environment for conversations when we are in conflict, establishing respectful guidelines and boundaries that allow for the healthy expression of feelings.
- We agree that we are allies and on the same team.
- We agree to review this agreement weekly and before attempting to resolve any conflict. We each agree to do our utmost to uphold this agreement.
- If either of us needs a timeout to cool off, we agree in advance that the first timeout will be for 15 minutes. The person requiring the timeout agrees to say, “I need a timeout for 15 minutes. I am not leaving the discussion or the relationship. I just need a short timeout.”
- We agree to limit discussions of loaded topics to 20 minutes. A timer can be used if either of us wishes it. When the time is up, if the conflict is not resolved, we will agree to either continue the discussion for another 20 minutes or to schedule a later time to complete the conversation.
- We agree to not discuss loaded topics before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (This one can be adjusted depending on the couple’s needs and lifestyle.)
- We agree we will not engage in name-calling, that we will not use offensive language, and that we will not be emotionally abusive.
- We agree we will not be physically abusive. This includes but is not limited to shoving, hitting, door slamming, and throwing things. We also agree to not engage in threatening behavior that we know our partner fears, such as threats of abandonment or exile. If either of us is in fear of the other due to the conflict, we agree to be honest about our feelings.
- We agree to identify the issue that needs to be discussed and to keep the conversation about that issue only. At the same time, we understand that the problem at hand may trigger, for one of both of us, a “core issue” from childhood or elsewhere in our past. When this occurs, we agree to differentiate between the present and the past.
- We agree to not attempt conflict resolution while driving, while in bed, during the workday, at a place of employment, at times when hostile behavior may escalate (after a few drinks, for instance), or when one of us is feeling particularly low, vulnerable, tired, hungry or otherwise not up to the task.
- We agree to not attempt conflict resolution in public or in the presence of family members (especially our kids). If conflict erupts at these times, we agree to acknowledge the upset feelings and to not abandon or walk away from the upset person, but instead to treat that person with kindness.
- We agree to close a conflict resolution conversation with a couple-affirming prayer. (If the couple does not wish to engage in prayer, I generally suggest a couple-centric affirmation, such as, “We love each other, and we know that our differences and disagreements are a part of what makes us special.”)
- We agree to ask for help if either of us feels that we are unable to remain respectful in our attempt to resolve a particular conflict.
We enter into this agreement willingly and lovingly:
Signature of Partner A:
Signature of Partner B:
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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available through our free resources website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com, our low-cost online workgroups, and our residential treatment center.