According to relationship expert Dr. Patricia Love, it’s important to stop keeping score and to try not to win every argument, even when you’re in the right. Instead, Love says, “think of winning an unofficial contest I like to call ‘Who’s the Bigger Person?’ Resolving Conflicts is about who wants to grow the most and what’s best for your relationship.’” In the beginning of a relationship, couples tend to focus more on their similarities. Yet after awhile, negative projections tend to surface and your partner may remind you of someone from your past. This could explain why some couples who seemed so compatible when they first got together, have more conflicts as time goes by.
Hilary, age 34, explains how identifying her part in communication breakdowns with her husband, Dan, helped save her marriage. “In the past, I used to focus on what Dan was doing wrong until a good friend reminded me that I may want to try harder to communicate my feelings to him without blaming him.” Hilary realized that she hadn’t learned healthy ways of resolving conflicts from her parents who had loud, abusive arguments in front of her and her two younger siblings.
Like all smart women, Hilary realizes that every relationship goes through rough patches and that it takes two people to contribute to the difficulties. Since she enjoys being married overall, Hilary decided to focus more on Dan’s positive qualities – such as being a great father – rather than negative ones. “That’s when I noticed that I had a problem communicating. I expected Dan to know what I wanted without me telling him what I needed. When he failed, I’d punish him with the silent treatment, or blow up. When I let go of my efforts to fix him, and started working on fixing myself, things began to get better,” she says.
Six ways to stop the “blame game” and resolve conflicts in a healthy way:
• Take a risk and talk about hurt feelings – especially if it’s an important issue. Opening up to our partner can make us feel vulnerable and exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, intimate relationship.
• Avoid building a case against your partner and don’t make lists of their flaws.
• Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement.
• Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements that tend to come across as blameful. For instance, saying “I felt hurt when you bought me that gift” will work better than “You never buy me thoughtful gifts.”
• Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later.
• Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts. Sometimes it’s best to “drop it” in order to stop the “blame game.”