5 Tips To Solve Conflicts Among Couples
By: Pinki Sun, 22 Mar 2020 5:58 PM
As anyone who has been in a romantic relationship knows, disagreements and fights are inevitable. When two people spend a lot of time together, with their lives intertwined, they are bound to disagree from time to time. These disagreements can be big or small, ranging from what to eat for dinner or failing to complete a chore to arguments about whether the couple should move for one partner’s career or deciding on children’s religious upbringing.
The mere fact that you fight with your partner isn't a sign there is real trouble in your relationship. In fact, when handled properly, fighting can improve your relationship. If you never fight and never talk about your problems, you will never solve them. By dealing with conflicts constructively, you can gain a better understanding of your partner and arrive at a solution that works for both of you. On the other hand, it is also possible for conflicts to escalate and create ill will without resolving anything. How can you improve the odds of a successful resolution to the conflicts in your relationship? Here are 5 research-backed tips:
* Be direct
Sometimes people don't just come out and plainly state what is bothering them, and instead choose more indirect ways of expressing their displeasure.1 One partner may speak to the other in a way that is condescending and implies underlying hostility. Other times, partners may mope and pout without really addressing an issue. Partners may also simply avoid discussing a problem by quickly switching topics when the issue comes up or by being evasive. Such indirect ways of expressing anger are not constructive, because they don't give the person who is the target of the behaviors a clear idea of how to respond.2 They know their partner is irritated, but the lack of directness leaves them without guidance about what they can do to solve the problem.
* Talk about how you feel without blaming your partner
Statements that directly assault your partner’s character can be especially damaging to a relationship.3 If a man frustrated by his girlfriend's jealousy says "You’re totally irrational!" he is inviting her to become defensive, and this can shut down further conversation. A more constructive strategy is to use "I statements" and pair them with "behavior descriptions."4I statements focus on how you feel, without blaming your partner, and behavior descriptions focus on a specific behavior your partner is engaging in, rather than a character flaw. For example, this man might say, "I get irritated when you claim I'm flirting with someone during an innocent conversation." These tactics are direct, but don't impugn your partner's character.
* Never say never
When you’re addressing a problem, you should avoid making generalizations about your partner. Statements like "You never help out around the house," or, "You're always staring at your cell phone" are likely to make your partner defensive. Rather than prompting a discussion about how your partner could be more helpful or attentive, this strategy is likely to lead your partner to start generating counterexamples of all the times they were, in fact, helpful or attentive. Again, you don’t want to put your partner on the defensive.
* Pick your battles
If you want to have a constructive discussion, you need to stick to one issue at a time. Unhappy couples are likely to drag multiple topics into one discussion, a habit renowned conflict researcher John Gottman calls "kitchen-sinking." This refers to the old expression "everything but the kitchen sink," which implies that every possible thing has been included. When you want to solve personal problems, this is probably not the strategy you take with yourself. Imagine that you wanted to think about how to incorporate more physical exercise into your daily routine. You would probably not decide that this would also be a great time to think about how to save more money for retirement, organize your closet, and figure out how to deal with an awkward situation at work. You would try to solve these problems one at a time. This seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment, a fight about one topic can turn into a complaining session, with both partners trading gripes. The more complaints you raise, the less likely it is that any will actually get fully discussed and resolved.
* Really listen to your partner
It can be very frustrating to feel like your partner is not paying attention to you. When you interrupt your partner or assume that you know what they're thinking, you're not giving them a chance to express themselves. Even if you are confident that you know where your partner is coming from or know what they're going to say, you could still be wrong, and your partner will still feel like you’re not listening.