Relationship conflict is a fact of life, but you can manage it in healthy ways!
Let's face it... all relationships have conflict. It's a part of life. Yet, conflict gets a bad rep. But, truth be told, conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Relationships that don't report any conflict are the ones that you should really look out for; they are unhealthier than the ones that have some conflict.
If a couple tells me they don't have any conflict, then I KNOW that someone is conceding way too much. Someone is not getting their needs met.
The silver lining in conflict is that it creates a deeper understanding of one another and provides the opportunity for couples to be productive, and help the relationship grow and become healthier. Conflict can also foster and encourage greater closeness and love between and within the couple.
Yet, on the darker side, without learning how to manage the conflict that arises, people can and often feel angry, resentment towards their partner or spouse, and greater hostility. And learning how to work through conflict helps the couple get to the other side of it, creating a different path.
How conflict is resolved is a critical factor for couples.
The degree to which they manage those is based on several factors such as communication styles, family upbringing, relationship history, personality, and the degree to which they can manage their emotions and conflict.
However, the key to mastering conflict and working through it depends on how well couples can communicate about their struggle to get their relationship back on track after a conflict or argument.
Many times these arguments are circular in nature and seldom get resolved in a way that both people walk away feeling good about their relationship.
Whether it's because of old patterns that relate to one another, unhealthy communication, difficulty knowing how to do it, or fear — among other reasons, there are things you can do that will create a new and healthier path for couples.
Sue and Mark, age 32, 34.
Sue and Mark have been together for almost three years. They broke up over the Summer, but recently decided to get back together. They really want to make their relationship work.
They both feel strongly about one another and recognize their many strengths. They love each other, but both realize that in order to have a healthier relationship and be better communicators, they needed couples counseling.
They both admit to being stubborn and holding on to their anger and point of view much longer than they should — yet they don't know what to do.
Through therapy, they also realized they are equally sensitive to slights and often get quickly hurt, which prevents them from resolving their conflict. They become defensive with one another which prevents them from having any conversation that 'feels good and positive' in their relationship.
Both also admit to replicating many of the same behaviors they had in their family of origin — or their first family — that keeps them stuck and very frustrated.
However, all is not lost. In fact, couples like Sue and Mark who want to make changes — both individually and as a couple — show great promise for their future and why couples counseling can help them — and others — in dramatic ways.
1. Make the investment.
What this means is that both people make their 100 percent investment for themselves and the couple.
Each person is on board and makes a commitment to themselves and the couple to do the work and make necessary changes to improve their relationship. They must do this knowing it will most likely get worse before it gets better.
It might be a roller coaster ride. However, just knowing that and normalizing that helps them continue down the path of renewal.
2. Start with a soft start up.
John Gottman coined this term and essentially it comes down to being proactive rather than reactive and asking your partner or spouse the following questions: When might be a good time to revisit the conversation?
When couples take the approach of "Let's both each be in a better head space to discuss the topic again" instead of jumping in and inferring that it's a good time (because maybe it isn't), this allows both people to figure out what might be a good time for them.
How many time have you started a conversation and he/she is checked out or been on the receiving line of that and tried to have a conversation, but quickly discovered that it wasn't a good time?
Everyone has been in either of those places. Since you want to talk about it, it's OK to start the conversation.
3. The value of backpedaling.
What does it mean to backpedal? You can always go back and revisit the conversation. You can have a 'do over.' This can be accomplished by asking yourself these questions:
- What could I have done differently?
- How do I wish the conversation would have went?
- What can I do differently the next time this topic comes up in conversation before it turns to a conflict?
4. Look for patterns.
We all have patterns in communication. Words that are spoken and things that our spouse/partner can and often are triggers. Often, it's because of other life experiences or our own upbringing that.
What are your triggers? What are the words you hear or the behaviors you see that affect you and trigger you into responding? It's important to know your communication style as well as your attachment style (I will add links to both of these).
5. The true apology.
Understand the 5 steps to an apology. "I am sorry" are just 3 words that form a sentence.
People often just say "I am sorry" without much substance to it. They continue to do the same thing, repeat behaviors and say "I am sorry" every time they do the same thing. However, "I am sorry" actually has 5 steps to it to make it more effective.
- I am sorry.
- I was wrong.
- This is what I did wrong.
- This is what I am going to do to make changes.
- Implementation of the changes.
Like other changes we need to make in life, change doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, a lot of fits and starts, and often couples encounter a roller coaster of emotions as they make necessary changes.
But, taking these first steps will help get your relationship back on track and pointing in a direction that makes couples feel stronger as they become better at managing conflict in their relationship.
Are you experiencing conflict in your relationship? Are you finding it difficult to manage? Start by using these 5 steps to learn how to resolve your conflict to create a healthier relationship!