At some point, every relationship is going to have conflict – but conflict doesn’t always have to escalate into an argument. Conflict is simply a differing of opinions or views between two people, and whilst some conflict is trivial and can be agreed upon to be disagreed upon – other issues are too important to simply let go.
In situations like these, it’s import to deal with conflict in a constructive way so it doesn’t escalate into fighting. Whilst some couples can do this effortlessly – many are not as good at dealing with tensions, heightened emotions and differences of opinions.
The ideas below are both a positive and a different approach to dealing with conflict within your relationship and may be beneficial in communicating effectively to reach a resolution before the situation escalates into a fight.
1. DON’T SLEEP SEPARATELY
There are times when we are in conflict with our partner that we feel the need to withdraw and spend time alone. The need for time and space to deal with our emotions so they don’t become inappropriate and potentially damaging outbursts during discussions is completely understandable and often even a good idea. If you are the type of person that needs time to collect yourself before dealing with conflict it’s important to explain to your partner that this is the reason you are taking time away from them. Make sure they understand that you are simply taking time to sort through your thoughts and emotions so you can both work together to resolve the situation like adults at a later time. Make it clear that you’re NOT doing this because you DON’T love them and you DON’T want to work it out… you’re doing this because you DO love them and you DO want to work it out. It’s important that your partner understands that you are avoiding them only temporarily to HELP the situation by not antagonizing it further. But believe it or not, as beneficial as time apart can be in the initial stages of a conflict for avoiding overly tense situations that could lead to an argument – sleeping apart is a NOT a good idea and can make resolution more difficult when you’re finally ready to talk. Whether you realize it or not, sleeping separately is a form of passive aggression. Even if you need more time away the following day, at the very least sleep in the same bed together during the night. This sends a subtle message (in a very literal way) that there may be some issues right now, but at the end of the day you are still together because you still love each other. You will be surprised how reassuring this one little gesture can be for both parties.
2. WRITE IT DOWN FROM BOTH POINTS OF VIEW BEFORE DISCUSSING IT
If you’re the kind of person that gets swept away in the emotion of a situation and forgets many of the important details that would have helped someone understand your point of view – try writing everything down first. Follow a logical flow of “When A happens, it makes me feel B which then leads to C”.
Next write the situation out again using the same logical flow but from your partner’s perspective so you are genuinely looking at it from their point of view.
Then, list as many solutions to the problem as you can (even ones you may not personally like or agree with). As an extra step you can also list the pros and cons for each solution and who those pros and cons will impact.
3. ASK YOURSELF HONESTLY – HOW MUCH ARE YOU REALLY IN THE RIGHT?
It seems like a strange question, but taking the attitude that you are 100% in the right and your partner is 100% in the wrong is naïve and damages any chances of coming to a resolution. Often times, if we honestly step back and look at a situation from an outside perspective we will find that some of our attitudes or previous experiences can influence the way we react to things and are at least a partial contributor to the current situation. This doesn’t make it partially our ‘fault’… it’s important to remember that words like ‘fault’ or ‘blame’ or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t help conflict – all they do is contribute to a black and white view that polarizes two people and puts them on opposing sides. In situations of “me vs you” there is no compromise, understanding or resolution. It’s more like two boxers in a ring with one outright winner and one outright loser and as we all know, relationships are about the mutual happiness of two people and often that involves give and take. Sometimes before we discuss our conflict with our partner we need to take the time to asses our part in it first so we can understand their side of the situation better. Assuming we are in the ‘right’ is a bad attitude to take on and will not ultimately resolve the issue.
EXAMPLE: Mary and Paul are in a relationship together and Mary does not like the fact that Paul’s best friend Cassandra is a woman. Mary resents the fact that Paul is spending so much time with another woman as her last boyfriend before Paul cheated on her with a female friend. Mary doesn’t understand why she cannot take Cassandra’s role as a friend to Paul and why he continues to spend time with Cassandra even though he knows how much it upsets her.
Mary feels in the ‘right’ as she has done nothing ‘wrong’ and Paul continues to do something in spite of the fact that it upsets her. From Mary’s initial point of view she is 100% in the right and Paul should be the one to compromise if he truly loves her.
However, if Mary stopped and looked at the situation, not from a right/wrong fault/blame stand point – but in a neutral way that analyzes all the causes of the situation – she would see that Paul and Cassandra had been friends long before Mary ever came alone. If they were romantically interested in one another they would be together, but they aren’t because they are just friends. If Paul had a friend that was a male who was of a race or religion Mary did not like – everyone would agree she was not just in the wrong, but would probably consider her a controlling and awful person for judging someone she barely even knows based on such a bias… but really, isn’t gender bias just as bad?
Mary also FEELS right because she was cheated on in a previous relationship. But Paul isn’t her previous partner – why should he be judged, punished or made to change aspects of who he is simply because of a negative experience Mary had in a different relationship that involved completely different people?
If Mary were to stop, step back from the situation and look at it from an outside perspective she would see that she has brought her past negative emotions from her previous relationship into this new one with Paul, and while Mary may have been through a trauma and it makes her feelings understandable – it doesn’t make them fair or acceptable in this new relationship.
That is not to say that the whole situation is Mary’s fault – at the same time it must be addressed that Paul knows this upsets Mary and yet he continues the behavior without even trying to alleviate Mary’s concerns. Life is not a movie plot with ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters – both sides are real people with legitimate emotions. Neither party is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, in real life there is no such thing. Everyone is entitled to their own emotions and nobody should have to be the ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ when it comes to a solution. In a situation like this, Mary and Paul could easily compromise in ways that would appease both of them – but they must first understand how each of them plays a role in the conflict and accept the other’s feelings are valid.
4. GO FOR A 10MIN WALK TOGETHER BEFORE YOU DISCUSS THE ISSUE
If you’re going to have a sit down discussion about the issue to see it through to a resolution – go for a walk first (no shorter than 10mins). Walking is a mild to moderate form of physical activity which helps rid the body of excess energy which could potentially be focused into tension or anxiety later. Walking also promotes endorphins but doesn’t get the heart-rate so high as to get adrenaline pumping (which could potentially heighten aggression). It also has the benefit of being a pleasant activity in which you are in a close proximity to each other. A key point to remember is not to play on your phones or listen to music or anything that ignores the other person – but at the same time don’t talk about the issue yet either. You can walk in comfortable silence or talk about other things from your life or your day, whichever you find more pleasant.
By the time you get home you should be more relaxed, feeling pleasant and have expended any excess energy that may have manifested itself negatively.
5. KEEP YOUR COOL
A person who loses their cool in a disagreement not only turns a conflict (which is a completely normal part of life) into a full blown fight, but has also lost the argument pretty much straight away. People who feel the need to lash out usually do so because they have no valid points left and generally feel as though they are ‘losing’ or are boxed into a corner. The moment they lose their cool the discussion instantly goes up the level of “fight” and both parties have already lost. Never yell, swear or cast blame. Reasonable adults will accept responsibility for their part in a situation and their own wrongdoings – shoving it in their faces repeatedly with an aggressive attitude only makes them become defensive, in which case they will either shut down – or worse – go on the attack.
Each person should take turns to speak about the situation. Use the same logical pattern you used when writing the problem out (When A happens, it makes me feel B which then leads to C). Most importantly when the other person is speaking – NEVER interrupt! If they have a point you disagree with or want to rebut, write a key word down to remind yourself of it later so you can come back to it when it’s your turn to speak – but don’t interrupt.
When it’s your turn again to speak, refer to your key word pointers, remind them once more of what they said earlier and then add your own point to the discussion.
6. MAKE TIME TO PUT THE CONFLICT ASIDE AND SPEND QUALITY TIME TOGETHER
Not all conflicts can be resolved in one conversation, so when the conversation is over but the situation is not – make sure you keep the relationship happy and healthy at all times that don’t involve your ongoing conflict with one another. If you can, make an effort to spend some quality time together. It sounds strange to do that when you’re in the middle of a conflict situation, but it’s important to put the conflict aside when it’s not being discussed to remind yourselves of the reasons you’re working to resolve the issue. Sometimes spending quality time together in amongst a conflict situation reminds you of why you’re working through it. If there wasn’t love there you wouldn’t be discussing it and working it out – you’d simply end the relationship. Having happy times together not only releases endorphins but puts things back in perspective by ensuring that not all the time you’re spending together is negative.
7. IF NO RESOLUTION CAN BE FOUND, BRAINSTORM TOGETHER SOME WAYS TO AVOID THE ISSUE AND WORK AROUND IT
Sometimes there may not be a compromise that anyone can agree on. In a scenario like this, have a brainstorming session together to come up with ideas to work around the situation in such a way that it rarely (if ever) comes up. It’s important to recognize that you are not ignoring the problem by doing this, but are in fact accepting it will always be a problem and finding ways to make the relationship work around it.
In closing, try to remember that relationships take effort and that not everyone is a natural at conflict resolution – but by making the effort to address both your conflicts and your way of dealing with them, you are already making a positive step towards resolution. You may even find that the issue itself was not the problem as much as the ways you were dealing with (or not dealing with in some cases) the conflict between you.
By at least attempting the steps above you are not only showing your love and dedication to the relationship by putting in the effort – but also giving your relationship it’s best possible chance by accepting that your usual approach wasn’t working and trying something different……by..Ranata Suzuki