Disagreements and Differences in your relationship happen all the time. Couples can disagree when they want to go to the movies. They can differ over how to discipline their children. They can differ on when to have sexual relations. They can disagree on where to get the car serviced. Disagreements are resolved through collaborative negotiation, Conflict is not.
Disagreements and Differences are not the same thing as Conflict. Conflict is not resolved through negotiation because when you are in conflict with each other, you are not capable of being collaborative, a prerequisite to negotiating.
In relationships it is important to distinguish between the content and the process in your interactions because conflict in relationships is always about the process that is occurring. Disagreements in relationships occur over the content of your interactions.
The content is the what of the interaction between you two, e.g. eating dinner, grocery shopping, having sex, children’s activities, career. Process has to do with what is going on between the two of you as you interact with one another, how you are interacting with one another. People often refer to process as communication but communication is an overused imprecise term. Here is a schematic the shows the difference between Content and Process.
Conflict occurs because something is going on between the two of you that is a problem, which can only be addressed through a process of self-reflection When you are in the midst of conflict, it is almost impossible to make the distinction between what is going on between you and the content of the interaction if you don’t stop to reflect on what is happening. You will end up arguing about the content which is impossible to address when either or both of you are reacting to each other.
To be self-reflective means being willing and able to take a hard look at your own personal motives when you interact with your partner, i.e. when you are “taking things personally”. You can learn to be more aware of your own part in and more accountable for what goes on in your intimate day-to-day interactions. I believe everybody is susceptible to “taking things personally”; it is a characteristic of people, not a character flaw. As you become more aware of you “personal take” in an interaction, the more you can learn to manage it more effectively.
Being self-reflective turns out to be necessary to be able to negotiate collaboratively.