All relationships have conflict.
Its a part of life. Yet, conflict gets a bad rap. But truth be told, conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 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. Conflict can also foster and encourage greater closeness and love between and within the couple. What is key is learning how to manage the conflict that arises, to each person can fee less angry and resentful, towards their partner or spouse.
And yet there are times that I hear people report no conflict. These are the relationships that often tells me someone is most likely acquiescing way too much. That causes me to raise my eyebrows and send in the red flags!
So, 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 referred emotional intelligence (EQ). 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 be because of old patterns of relating to one another, unhealthy communication, difficultly knowing how to do it, or fear – among other reasons, are things you can do that will create a new and healthier path for couples. Taking necessary healthy steps to resolving old patterns proves vital for couples to pivot and start to take a different path.
Sue and Mark,* age 32, 34.
Sue and Mark have been together for almost three years. They broke up over the summer but got recently decided to get back together. They really want to make their relationship work because they have 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. They also realized they are equally sensitive to slights and often get quickly hurt, which prevents them from resolving 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.
Couples like Sue and Mark – and are by the way are very common – 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. This holds true for both the individual and the couple. What this means is each person has to be on board and make 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. However, just knowing that and normalizing that helps them continue down the path of renewal. Relationships grow and thrive when both people are willing to make changes to improve the relationship or marriage. Show up. Have intention. Make the commitment. Follow through.
2.) Soft start up. 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 headspace to discuss the topic again instead of jumping in and inferring that its 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 therefore its ok to start the conversation.
3.) Backpedal. 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: A.) ‘What could I have done differently?’ B.) How do I wish the conversation would have went? C.) 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 its 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? Do you know your triggers? What sets you off? What gets you emotional and unable to see the other person’s point of view? The answers are critical to breaking unhealthy communication patterns. Its important to know your communication style as well as your attachment style.
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. This maddening! It also builds resentment and cracks the foundation because the person continues to apologize and not make any changes. The other person becomes mistrustful of the other persons’ intentions. Behaviors speak volumes…words are just words..
Like other changes we need to make in life, change doesn’t happen over night. 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!