How to manage conflict successfully is a skill that can make or break a marriage and is therefore extremely important. The good news is that we can learn successful conflict resolution. “It takes two to tango” so when one partner moves into conflict management, the other usually follows or can be coaxed into following…
Couples with excellent conflict resolution skills tend to “wow” most of us. From the outside looking in, they have it all—romance, friendship, loyalty, many other enviable qualities.
From the inside looking out, as any successful long-term couple can tell you, the “wow” factor took much hard work.
Like most people in a marriage, one hopes for marriage without conflict. Any authority on marriage will tell you right away, that is not realistic nor even desirable. Conflict serves a fundamental purpose in long term partnerships. Conflict is a door to emotional honesty. Moreover, to keep the door to emotional honesty open it is necessary first to accept this inevitability: conflict is inevitable and even needed. Many partners have trouble with that concept because their stress hormones climb to uncomfortable heights. It is knowing how to manage that stress during conflict is essential.
Couples that completely tacitly avoid conflict need to learn to fight again according to Dr. Sue Johnson, author of “Hold Me Tight,” a practical guide for couples to learn to connect at a deeper level. Couples that have a habit of avoiding conflict coexist side by side without a more profound connection so they need to learn to fight again so that their fighting will fuel the emotional honesty and the passion again. There are also uninvited emotions that show up during heated exchanges between partners that make the management of conflict impossible. These painful emotions are contempt and blame. So steering away from indulging in these emotions and keeping the communication respectful is immensely vital. Also, couples that know how to manage conflict without sliding into ugly fighting achieve a magical balance.
Here are a few tips that can help achieve that much desired long-term marital success.
Clearly Define the Conflict
As with any argument, disagreement, or misunderstanding, rabbit trails tend to happen. After all, in the heat of a conflict, it’s not uncommon to quickly “see red.”
As a result, you may be tempted to bring up past arguments or even pile mounds of smaller issues on top of the current conflict. Naturally, this compounds the problem, making the current conflict as clear as mud.
Instead of going in 1,000 directions, try to use clarity and define the conflict at hand.
Furthermore, make it a habit only to handle one or two issues at a time per session. Anything over this is a recipe for disaster.
Focus on Problem Solving
Along with defining the actual conflict, be sure to focus on solving the problem.
In dealing with a conflict, it’s easy to finger point or cast blame. You may even start to nit-pick at your partner.
This type of behavior stems from a general annoyance or anger toward your partner. Although it’s completely natural to experience, it can prevent you from resolving the problem. So, stay focused on the real issue.
Empathy is the ability to understand your partner’s feelings. Remember, understanding is not the same as agreeing.
When you understand, you make an effort to see things from their point of view. Attempting understanding helps to feel a bit of what they may have felt at the moment the situation happened.
In practicing empathy, active listening is a valuable skill to employ. Active listening also helps communicate to your partner that you do understand them.
Furthermore, validate what they are feeling. Your partner has the right to feel what they feel whether you agree or not. This may be a complicated process for them, consisting of past emotions of which you’re unaware.
Acknowledging the feelings and emotions they share with you will do wonders for your relationship. Doing so will encourage you both to be more open and vulnerable with each other, eliminating the “stalemate” stance.
Make Forgiveness a Habit
Let’s get this straight, to forgive someone has more to do with you than them. It’s releasing negative and harmful emotions to keep them from harboring inside of you, corroding your entire being.
In a marriage, it’s a good idea to make forgiveness a habit. Otherwise, you’ll be going round and round like boxers in a fighting ring.
Once you and your partner have resolved a conflict, choose to let it go. It’s whole-heartedly embracing the idea of forgiving and forgetting. It’s probably one of the hardest parts of marriage.
Let the Little Things Go
Couples who deal with many conflicts tend to fight about little things such as dirty dishes or socks on the floor.
This isn’t to downplay how important “little” things are in a marriage. However, there’s one caveat to this; fighting over dirty dishes in the sink isn’t usually a fight about dirty dishes in the sink. Not really, anyway.
By getting to the core of the conflict, you can eliminate the outside noise from silly things like socks or dishes. In fact, they tend to bug you less and less the more you address real issues in your relationship.
When you learn to let little things go, it has a way of illuminating the relationship core so you can get back to the heart of your marriage.
Therapy can help you learn valuable relational skills so that you can become the “wow” couple you want to be. Please, contact my office today if you’re ready to learn more about how I can help.