Do you spend more time questioning your partner’s words or actions than examining your own? Blaming your partner might feel good in the moment, but it can lead to anger and resentment. Most of the time you can restore feelings of love by listening to your partner’s side of the story. Conflict is not always a destructive thing in relationships. In fact, all couples argue.
The difference between the couples that stay together and the ones who divorce is the way they repair after conflict. The key to having a happy marriage or intimate relationship is to stay engaged or connected during conflict or not to withdraw from your partner or throw in the towel too easily.
In fact, Paul Schrodt, of Christian University studied 14,000 participants and discovered that the most common reason why couples develop serious difficulties is that one or both partners withdraw and go into the silent treatment mode due to feelings of hurt, anger, and resentment. Schrodt also found that women are usually the ones who demand or pursue, and men tend to withdraw or distance.
In Marriage Rules Dr. Harriet Lerner suggests that a good disagreement can clear the air as long as you are respectful and repair hurt feelings. She writes:
. . .[I]t’s nice to know we can survive conflict and even learn from it. Many couples, however, get trapped in endless rounds of fighting and blaming that they don’t know how to get out of. When fights go unchecked and unrepaired, they can eventually erode love and respect which are the bedrock of any successful relationship.
In over 40 years of research in his classic “Love Lab” studies, Dr. John Gottman discovered that the number one solution to marital problems is to get good at repair skills. He explains that repair attempts allow a couple to get back on track after a dispute and are an important way to avoid resentment.
6 Ways To Deal Effectively With Conflict in Intimate Relationships
1. Do not blame, criticize, or show contempt for your partner. Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking him or her. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t tell me about before you bought that new bike.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me anything. How can I trust you?” Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.). Starting conversations with a soft and curious tone such as, “Could I ask you something?” will lessen your partner’s defensiveness.
2. Avoid character assassinations. Don’t attack your partner’s character, values, or core beliefs. Remember that anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so stop and reflect on your own emotions. Listen to our partner’s side of the story instead of focusing on your counterargument. Validate their perspective first – then share your viewpoint. When you feel like attacking your partner, ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish?
3. Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you will regret later. Don’t issue ultimatums such as “I’m leaving if things don’t improve.” Take the “D” word (divorce) out of your vocabulary. Make a commitment to stay together (unless there is abuse) and accept that there will be difficulties as you deal with healing from past betrayals and everyday hurts.
4. Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues that are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Engage in a conversation with your partner that is productive rather than shutting down. The relationship wins when both partners get some (but not all) of their needs met.
5. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements that tend to come across as blameful – such as “I felt hurt when purchased the car without discussing it with me” rather than “You’re so selfish; you never think of what I need.”
6. Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner. Set up a policy where no disapproval (or criticism) is allowed between you and your partner for at least 24 hours during times of turmoil and high stress in your relationship.
Once you’ve learned to manage and resolve conflicts effectively, it becomes much easier to repair disagreements and to get back on track. If you find yourself struggling, tell your partner what is on your mind and ask them for feedback.
It’s a great idea to practice having a recovery conversation after an argument. Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D. believes that your focus needs to be on listening to your partner’s perspective, collaborating, building intimacy, and restoring safety and goodwill. A recovery conversation can reveal information about your relationship, and it can lead to a resolution of the fight or at least a compromise.
Most importantly, give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws and looking to blame him or her, try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Avoid building a case against your partner and express positive feelings and gestures of love often. The more you practice, the easier it gets to become skilled at demonstrating acceptance and gratitude in your words and actions.
For instance, Lauren felt very angry with Ryan for being late when they were leaving for vacation. But instead of reading him the riot act, she tried expressing understanding and empathy about his hectic work schedule.
Lauren put it like this to Ryan, “I feel disappointed that we have to leave late for our vacation but I understand you’ve had a busy week. In the long run, leaving an hour late won’t matter that much.”
If you adopt a mindset that views relationships as teachers you will be better able to overcome setbacks after a dispute or miscommunication. Instead of focusing on the past, spend energy fostering a deeper connection with your partner. For instance, say something like “I feel flooded right now. Can you hold me or tell me you love me? I feel like attacking you but I don’t want to do that.” Most of the time, you’ll reestablish intimacy by being honest and open with your partner during times of high conflict or distress. It takes time and patience!
Couples who discuss concerns in a timely and respectful way and adopt a “we’re in this together” mindset have a better chance of creating a happy long-lasting partnership. They are resilient don’t let anger destroy the loving feelings and affection that brought them together in the first place.
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