How To Make Conflict Work For Your Relationship Starting Today
Occasionally someone will say, “Oh, we never fight! In our whole relationship, we have never argued.” Well, what they probably mean is that they have handled their conflict constructively and healthily. (The only other explanation would be that one of them is a doormat and the other walks all over him/her.)
Disagreement and conflict are a part of any relationship because we have different views, personalities, needs, preferences, etc. When two people can constructively deal with their disputes healthily, conflict can actually draw them closer together than they were before. Conflict can work for your relationship – not against it. To make conflict work for your relationship, there are some do’s and don’ts that are important to understand and put into practice in your relationship.
Conflict is inevitable, as was pointed out above. If you learn to make conflict work for your relationship and not against it, you can even welcome dispute as an opportunity to grow and to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your partner.
DON’T SEE YOU PARTNER AS YOUR ENEMY
You must remember that you and your mate are on the same team! So,
- Don’t attack each other. Focus on the issue and attack it together. It is what is creating this opportunity for a deeper understanding and growth!
- Don’t resort to name-calling. Once those words, which often wound the soul, are released, you can never take them back. They will build a wall between you and your mate that may never come down.
DON’T “PING-PONG” IN A BUNCH OF ISSUES
Stick to the issue at hand, and don’t introduce a new one until you have resolved it. It is like serving more than one ping pong ball at a time. Your mate will not know which one to go for and then may serve a few of their own. There’s no way that you can deal with multiple issues at the same time. You will only confuse and frustrate the process and yourself if you try.
FIND THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Is it really that she parked on the wrong side of the driveway or that he forgot to pay the credit card bill? Could it be that he wants to be respected and that she needs to feel secure? Be aware of what you want or need that you don’t feel like you are receiving from your mate. Otherwise, you will argue over anything and never get to the root of the issue.
DON’T MINIMIZE THE ISSUE
It may not seem like a big deal to you, but if it is a big deal to your partner, then it is a big deal! You don’t have to agree with their perspective, but you do need to listen to them and respect and validate them. It doesn’t help to say things like, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way,” or “Just stop worrying about it.” It’s much better to say something like, “I can see that this is very important to you and therefore it matters to me. I just don’t know what to say or do about it.”
OWN AND EXPRESS YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
Remember to “stay in your lane” in a conflict. You can only speak for yourself – your perspective, your thoughts, and your feelings: “I feel that…” , “In my opinion…” , “What I need is …”, etc. Own your part, and then be sure to express your thoughts and feelings in a way that your mate can best understand them.
DON’T OVERLOAD YOUR MATE
Be as brief, precise, and to the point and include your feelings. Help your mate to understand. Don’t overwhelm them with a flood of words and emotions.
You no doubt have heard of the “fight or flight” response when faced with what might seem to be a threat. We’ve already addressed the fact that we don’t want to fight with our partner, but neither do we wish to withdraw. Withdrawing creates anxiety in our mate, who might feel rejected. It also postpones the process and leaves room for assumptions as your mate tries to guess what you are thinking and feeling. Hang in there!
DON’T FORCE A RESOLUTION
If you can’t reach a mutually agreed-upon solution or course of action, don’t try to force your mate into agreeing to a solution or course of action that they really don’t buy in to. It’s better to table it, think, and pray about it and come back together at another time. Time-sensitive matters may require that you seek help and the counsel of a life coach, counselor, or clergy person.
DON’T LET ANGER DOMINATE
It’s really easy to express our anger, but anger is generally caused by a more profound emotion such as rejection, abandonment, hurt, grief, etc. You must seek to understand what is behind your anger. And above all, don’t yell!
AVOID “YOU ALWAYS” AND “YOU NEVER”
These superlatives are just broad generalizations that aren’t true. No one is “always” or “never” anything. You will only incite anger or despair if you use these phrases.
KEEP A GOOD ATTITUDE
This is easier said than done, of course. You will be surprised how productive your discussion of the issue will be if you each will be curious about your mate’s perspective and feelings, if you will be humble and not demanding and if you will be honest and vulnerable. One of the best attitude adjustments is to say, “ I get to” instead of “I have to.” For example: “ I get to tackle this issue with my incredible mate.”
APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU SHOULD
Knowing that you regret something or are remorseful about what you have said or done, will help your mate to forgive you so that your relationship can move forward.
Be willing to say, “I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?” Be sure to ask them to forgive you and let them reply. “I forgive you,” is essential for them to say and for you to hear.
COMPROMISE AND SACRIFICE
Each of you must be willing to compromise and even sacrifice to reach a solution. When you do, then it becomes “win-win” instead of “win-lose” (which is really a lose-lose!)
CELEBRATE YOUR PROGRESS!
When you come to an agreement, stop and celebrate! There is not enough celebrating in most relationships. Reward yourselves. It doesn’t have to be an expensive celebration. The point is to acknowledge your progress and affirm and validate each other for your efforts.
These “dos” and “don’ts” should help you when conflict arises in your relationship. If you get stuck and are just not able to get “unstuck,” no matter how hard you try, it might be wise to attend a marriage retreat or a marriage seminar or engage a relationship coach. Just don’t wait too long!