Conflicts in relationships are unavoidable and normal!
Having conflicts or disagreements does not indicate that a relationship or marriage is in trouble.
How well we “do conflict” influences whether we feel safe and happy in the relationship and therefore often also determines how long our relationship lasts.
Avoiding conflicts is not doing conflicts well. Sweeping things under the carpet breeds resentment and leads to long-term problems.
“Doing conflict well” means addressing disagreements consciously and communicating well with each other when we have a dispute.
Research done by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman showed that 69% of conflicts that couples have are about perpetual or unsolvable problems. Perpetual problems are based on discrepancies due to different values, different personalities, or diverging needs. For examples for these unsolvable problems please read “Constructive Disagreements in Relationships – PART TWO Perpetual Problems”. When we give up the idea that everything is solvable, we can replace it with the concept that everything can be talked about in a respectful way, and that we can arrive at compromises regarding our perpetual problems.
According to Gottman, constructive conflict management is based on six skills: soft start-ups (how we begin a challenging conversation), accepting our partner’s influence, making effective repairs, de-escalating, the ability to self-soothe, and compromising.
Knowing how to “do conflicts well” is essential for a long-term relationship or marriage. We need to feel safe in the interactions with our partner. For some people it is easier to feel safe when the other person is angry or upset, for others, anger and conflicts trigger the flight or freeze response.
In my “Course for Your Powerful Life Partnership”, one important area we work on is conflict management. It is important to set up agreements early on in their relationship regarding conflicts.
Here are suggestions for useful rules and commitments to have in place before a conflict situation happens, so that both of you can feel safer communicating about challenges:
I. Decide to see disagreements as an opportunity to grow and become stronger as a team. Set the intention to embrace conflicts instead of running away from them.
“Our gridlocked conflicts contain the potential for great intimacy between us. B
ut we have to feel safe enough to pull our dreams out of the closet.”
― John M. Gottman, And Baby Makes Three
II. Agree to “fight fairly”. This includes rules like
- No blaming others, rather taking responsibility for your part of a situation or problem.
- Listen, not with the goal to convince the partner, but with honest curiosity and with the objective to come to greater understanding of your partner’s perspective and experience.
- Speak calmly and with respect. Whether raising your voice is threatening to your partner depends on their upbringing. Decide with your partner what their comfort zone is. Sarcasm or contempt are generally destructive and not respectful.
- Never ever threatened to leave the relationship when you are having a fight! That creates primal fear and mistrust in your partner. Your partner needs to know that you are in this for the long haul.
- Ask for “time-outs” when one or both of you are flooded but always make a clear agreement to continue the talk at a time that works for both of you. When you need a break, your partner needs to know that you are committed to finishing the conversation.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
- Agree to watch out for your protectors coming up and do your best to speak for them and not from them, e.g. “One part of me feels angry right now, another part feels scared…”. If you want to find out more about that concept, please watch my talk “Courageous Love”.
- Let your protective parts step back as much as possible, so you can speak from your more vulnerable parts instead. Drop into your heart, soften, be gentle with your partner, and do your best to express your own vulnerable feelings.
- Make repairs effectively and efficiently. The faster you can make amends or repair a rift, the less likely is it that the memory of the fight goes into our long-term memory and the less likely it is that we begin to see our partner as an ongoing threat.
Are you looking to improve your conflict resolution techniques and strengthen your partnership?
Or are you considering deepening your commitment by getting married or becoming common laws?
Reach out for a free consultation or to book a session. I see individual clients and couples via Zoom.