“What if every moment of conflict is a chance to make your relationship even stronger?”
~ Crismarie Campbell
Are you stuck in a pattern of arguing that never seems to get resolved?
The resolution of conflicts in romantic relationships may seem daunting, but it’s actually not as overwhelming as it may appear. It just takes practice to become proficient and a willingness to change old patterns of behavior.
Anyone who has been in a loving relationship knows that arguments and differences in opinion are inevitable. The good news is that resolving these arguments will actually strengthen the bond between two people.
Fighting is not a sign that your relationship is failing.
Hence, the manner in which you resolve the fights can make or break the relationship. Some couples tell me that they never argue. This can actually lead to the demise of the relationship. It tells me that the partners are suppressing their true thoughts and feelings, hence, the issues go unresolved and will manifest in resentments and passive-aggressive behaviors.
The foundation of resolution is effective communication.
Many couples in my practice tell me, “Dr. Susie, we talk all the time.” Talking and communicating are two different concepts. We can all talk, but within an argument, the talking gets lost in the heightened emotional state.
Communication, on the other hand, is about being vulnerable as well as possessing the skill of reflective listening.
Here are some tips in learning to communicate with your partner more effectively in order to prevent or diffuse an argument:
As a communicator:
1. State your needs in a direct, non-judgmental, non-blaming and non critical manner.
Make sure you include what your partner has done (behavior that you are not happy with), how it makes you feel, and then ask for what you need/want.
Using your emotions to express what the behavior makes you feel, will help your partner understand how much your request means to you.
This is a form of vulnerability that will assist you and your partner to feel closer. Using “I” statements will help prevent your partner from becoming defensive.
2. Do not use the words, “never” or “always”.
These are generalizations that cause your partner to become flooded and literally stop listening/ hearing your complaint/desire.
3. Recognize that not all of your needs will be fulfilled by your partner.
Picking your battles is key. Take a look inward to gain insight into what you can do to soothe yourself if your partner is incapable of making such a change.
4. Complain about only one issue at a time.
Bringing up old resentments will cause the issue at hand to get lost and continue to go unresolved. Further, rehashing the past will cause your partner to become stonewalled, get flooded, and give up.
As a listener:
1. Without judgment, acknowledge your partner’s complaint.
Behind every complaint is a yearning. Acknowledging is not the same as agreeing.
Reflect/Mirror what your partner is saying by repeating his/ her complaints in your own words and using the underlying feeling your partner is expressing.
This will help ensure that you are understanding the request and will give your partner time to clarify what (s)he is requesting. Resist agreeing or disagreeing with your partner’s feelings about his/her complaint.
2. Take a time out if you feel flooded.
A time out is a short period of time for each partner to walk away in order to self-soothe (reduce the heightened emotions). It will typically take about 20-30 minutes to physiologically become calm.
Make sure you let your partner know when you will return to the discussion; where you will be and how you can be contacted during this time out. A time out is NOT designed to ignore, sweep under the rug, or threaten your partner with abandonment.
For both the communicator and the listener:
1. The biggest indication of break-ups is contemptuous behavior (ie) rolling your eyes, smirking, sarcasm, name calling, etc.
This type of behavior implies that you are disgusted with your partner and are unwilling to listen to his/her complaints/needs. This unwillingness can result in increased anger and the argument becomes about the behavior instead of the initial complaint.
2. Both partners are responsible for their own responses.
Even if your partner becomes contemptuous, it’s your responsibility to respond in a warm, good-natured manner in order to prevent increased agitation.
This can settle the argument by redirecting it into a more calm and rational discussion. Although this is ch alleging in the midst of a difficult discussion, it’s imperative that one of you take the lead in preventing the discussion from escalating.
3. Attempt taking a new perspective on how your partner is feeling/ thinking.
Toss out your point of view for a moment and really hear what your partner is telling you.
Susie Mendelsohn, PsyD – www.transformempowersoar.com
Conflict can be so difficult for couples. The very act of entering into conflict can cause us to get flooded and enter into fight-or-flight mode.
The problem is, when we enter into a flooded state physiologically, it becomes nearly impossible to think rationally and be empathetic toward your partner.
In fact, as the term suggests, we generally want to fight (yell, win, etc.) or avoid (flight), neither of which helps us talk through conflict in an effective manner.
So, you may wonder, is there a way to handle conflict that actually results in more connection and understanding?
The good news is that yes, you CAN approach conflict in a manner that is effective and results in more understanding.
There are a few ways you and your partner can approach conflict more effectively, but the most important ingredient is waiting to discuss things when you and your partner are both calm (not flooded).
This may take several attempts (and time-outs) to achieve. If either one of you begins feeling flooded (increased heart rate, inability to think or process clearly, sweaty palms, etc.), it is important to ask for a timeout to help relax your body and mind.
Take 20-30 minutes to walk around the block alone, breathe, pet an animal, etc., and when you’re feeling calm, ask if your partner is ready to talk again.
Here are a few more tips:
1. Avoid interrupting each other.
My clients make fun of my “talking stick,” but it truly does help signify that the person holding the stick is the ONLY one who is allowed to speak. The job of the other person is to LISTEN ONLY and then summarize what his/her partner said.
2. Take turns speaking and listening with a timer set.
For example, set a timer for ten to fifteen minutes for one partner to speak without interruption. It’s important when it’s your turn to speak that you also point out things that are going well and that you’re happy with, not just complaints.
When the timer goes off, the other partner should summarize; for example, “What I heard you say was…” This is a time that you can (gently) correct anything that your partner got incorrect or didn’t understand.
Then, repeat this process so that your partner can have equal speaking time without being interrupted. Ensure you summarize for your partner as well.
3. Stick to one or two key points, and make requests instead of criticizing or blaming.
Phrase requests gently; for example, say, “It would make me feel so good if you gave me a hug when you walked in the door,” instead of, “You never hug me anymore.” Blaming, criticizing, and using absolutes (“never” and “always”) are likely to lead to defensiveness or stonewalling, both of which worsen conflict.
4. Lastly, remember that all couples get into conflict.
And while it’s very uncomfortable, with time and a few tweaks, you can make it more tolerable and more effective.
Jennifer Meyer, M.A., LPC, NCC – www.jenmeyercounseling.com
Relationships, especially intimate ones with a partner, spouse, parent or child, tend to be filled with a wide variety of emotions over the years.
We strive to feel positive emotions within relationships like joy, happiness, connection, and empathy. However, when one or both parties within a relationship lack care and attention, their dynamic can begin to wilt. Just as plants need water to grow, so do relationships.
When we get stuck, stalled, or feel wilted in our relationship, resentment can build over time.
Resentment is something that typically brews slowly and one day, you realize that the bag of little things that annoyed you about your loved one is now filled with a ton of little things (and likely a few big things) that have been left open to fall all over the place.
There is an old saying during an argument that someone “threw in the kitchen sink” when an argument turns from something small into something big.
One will bring up old wounds that they have been harboring but never really addressed previously.
Partner 1- “Hey hun, What do you want to do for dinner? Maybe let’s go out somewhere, it’s been a while!”
Partner 2- “Nah, lets just stay home and heat up a frozen pizza and eat on the couch”
Partner 1- “You never want to take me out anywhere! All you ever want to do is stay home and do nothing! The same thing happened last weekend when I wanted to go to the movies. I can’t take this anymore!”
How can a small, seemingly insignificant spat over a meal, turn into a heated, emotion-filled argument?
The answer, almost always, stems from some form of resentment.
So how do we avoid this?
Typically, partners are not mind-readers no matter how much we wish they were!
Most arguments become much larger than the current issue at hand because of conflicting emotional needs, a lack of ongoing and open communication as well as difficulties with empathy.
A healthy relationship has its roots in trust.
If one, or both, partners do not trust that the other has their best interests at hand (whether because they are unaware or choose to ignore them), then fear builds which can lead to resentment.
People get defensive and their emotional walls go up because we do not fully trust the other person with our needs; to take care of and fulfill our desires within a relationship.
They begin to feel trapped in the status quo; fearing that the relationship is not living up to our desires or worse…may even dissolve.
Know that hope is not lost. If you are in a relationship that is beginning to wilt, or needs a lot more water, there are a few things you can start to do today to help.
Here are 3 essential tips to increase trust and communication in a relationship:
1. Get familiar with what you both need and want. How do you feel loved?
A simplistic way to do this is by taking the quiz from a book called “The Five Love Languages”. In this book, the author outlines what he believes are five general ways that romantic partners express and experience love: Words of affirmation, Quality time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service.
By understanding your own as well as your loved ones love languages, it makes it much easier to understand their responses to certain questions, place their reactions to certain situations, and thus coming to a compromise quicker and less painful.
2. Find a time each day (or several times a week) to communicate how you feel, what you need, as well as what you enjoy about each other.
For many couples (or two people inside any intimate relationship) who experience resentment, open communication is typically lacking. It is YOUR responsibility to express your needs/wants and LISTEN to your partner with open ears.
Don’t forget to also focus on your relationship’s positives (balance is key) to begin to share and rebuild trust. Life gets busy, and scheduling time for communication may need to happen, at least to start.
3. Have fun together.
This sounds silly, but for many couples where one or both feel unheard, unloved, or resentful towards the other, they might not be having too much fun together, at least not much as they used to.
If you feel like there is no time for fun due to work, kids or other life stress, schedule 15 mins in the early morning before anyone wakes up or after the kids are in bed. You may be tired, but fun will lead to greater intimacy and build more trust.
Remember, if you or a loved one is feeling stuck and self-help resources don’t seem to work, it’s “ok” to reach out for support. Online therapy is a great option to help you both get back on track and enjoy one another again.
Lisa Herman Lovelace, PsyD, LP – www.synergyetherapy.com
First, consider what narrative you are engaging: “You always get your way”. “I never get to talk”.
When we believe these narratives, it is natural to feel defensive towards your partner.
Because of these narratives we may not feel important, heard or even loved. Within this paradigm, we often cast our partner as the “bad guy.”
When we are defensive, we tend to want to cast blame on our partner.
This never goes well and we don’t get from it what we really want: to reconnect with our partner. Pause and Take a few deep breaths. I know it can be difficult to be open with someone who you think doesn’t listen or doesn’t care about you.
The goal in this moment is to deescalate the situation.
It is important that both people feel safe, to believe the other cares and this can happen when we catch our narratives and stop reacting to our partner as the enemy.
You will never get to “solve” the issue at hand when trapped in this narrative, because the conflict we are engaging in has nothing to do with the issue of debate.
In these moments, the conflict is about fighting for self. Fighting for the spotlight. Fighting to be seen. This is why when conflict resolves we rarely can remember how it even started, because how it starts is never what the fight is ever really about.
Second, stop and listen.
Repair. Acknowledge when you have done something that hurt your partner. It doesn’t cost you anything. “I did hang up on you.” This does not make you wrong or bad. It just validates your impact on your partner (“that would make sense you felt cut off from me because I did cut off when I hung up).
While our inclination is to defend our behavior* (“I hung up on you because you were yelling at me”) this does nothing to deescalate and is only deflecting away from repair. *This is a common exchange between couples. It can be hard to hold our partner’s pain we are feeling blamed for it.
Don’t think of this as taking the blame, but instead as taking responsibility.
I will say again, acknowledging “Yes, I did that” does NOT make you wrong or bad. Usually when we can acknowledge our part in the conflict and see our person’s pain and validate it, this helps deescalate the tension.
We will all have a turn when our goal is that we both feel safe and seen in our relationship.
Anne Crowley, PhD – www.annecrowleyphd.com
It can be difficult to maintain a loving attitude toward your partner in times of conflict. You may desperately want to connect but feel more distant and disappointed as communication attempts go nowhere. In those times you may develop anger and resentment due to the same old pattern presenting again.
Depending on the severity and nature of the issue, the approach taken may differ.
For example, in an abusive relationship, this type of communication will not be sufficient. For the purpose of this article general relational issues will be addressed.
Examine potential triggers and your reaction to them from a neutral stance or “observer” point of view.
Does something in your partner’s behavior trigger an unhealed issue from your past relationship or childhood experience? Is there a mirror that your partner is reflecting that is something that you mimic yourself?
For instance, if you feel abandoned by your partner, how might you abandon yourself in your life by not following through or taking care of yourself?
This doesn’t mean that your relational issue doesn’t exist, however may point you in a direction where you may need further healing. This unhealed issue is likely to impact the quality of your relationship.
Many issues stem from inefficient communication or lack of boundaries.
A common mistake is to assume that your partner knows how you feel or should know better. If your partner is also triggered due to past trauma, they may be repeating behaviors that are dysfunctional.
Damaging behaviors that destroy relationships:
- Avoidance/Distancing– Avoiding the issue, refusal to communicate about the issue, one word answers, one sentence texts.
- Silent Treatment– purposely not engaging at all with the goal to cause hurt. This behavior is abusive and must be stopped immediately.
- Withdrawal– Partner is emotionally distant, keeps to themselves.
- Withholding– Refusal to express love or offer nurture and caring. “The lights are on, but no one is home”.
Being on the receiving end of these behaviors may lead to emotional pain, hurt, anger, and resentment.
The Feedback Loop (by Pia Melody) is a format for healthy, loving communication and boundary setting.
Do not blame, accuse, shame, manipulate or judge. Drop defensiveness or the need to be right.
Do remain open, honest and loving. Remember that your partner may be acting from a wounded place. Listen out of curiosity. Listen with the intent of knowing your partner better.
Data: Report the behavior
- When you distance from me……
What you think:
- I think that you don’t care about me and no longer love me….
What you feel:
- About that I feel ….hurt, sad and lonely….
- Vulnerable Request: What you would like instead
- In the future, I would prefer if ….you please tell me what is going on for you.
You must have a willing partner as you can’t have a one -way conversation or relationship.
Seek help from a qualified therapist to learn skills and get to the root of any unhealthy behaviors that are getting in the way of having a healthy relationship.
Lisa Angelini, MAPC, LPC, ACCHT – www.lisaangelini.com
Relationship stress can have a major effect on your wellbeing. After an argument, people may feel down and depressed. They could feel anxious bringing up how they feel again. When frequent fighting occurs in a relationship, it can lead to distance, anger, and resentment. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Conflicts and disagreements are normal in relationships, even healthy ones.
When we communicate effectively with our significant other and take a team approach, disagreements can be opportunities to grow as individuals and partners.
Here are some tips to help you bring up your concerns in healthy ways and feel confident working through conflicts in your relationship.
1. Have open and honest conversations.
Be assertive. Sometimes disagreements lead to anger and yelling. This is an aggressive form of communication and often puts the other person on defense.
It also tells your partner that your own concerns are more important.
This may lead to the other person being passive, feeling too afraid to bring up their concerns again. They may go along with what their partner says just to keep the peace. After some time of not feeling heard, this leads to resentment.
The most effective way to communicate is through being assertive.
This means you respect your partner’s desires as well as your own. You might say something like “I hear you saying that you want A, and I also want B. Lets see how we can come up with a solution that works for both of us.”
2. Approach issues as a team, not enemies.
Listen to your partner and they will be likely to listen to you too. Focus on solutions, not who is right or wrong. It’s helpful to compromise when the issue is not a major concern.
However, if one partner always sacrifices something or you compromise on something you really value, this will lead to resentment and disconnect. Look for win-win solutions.
3. Set up some “Discussion Rules” with your partner before a conflict begins.
Come up with a list of dos and don’ts. This might include ideas like using I statements, acknowledging each other’s feelings, and discussing one issue at a time.
If the discussion begins to get too heated, agree to pause so each partner can do something to calm down. It is important to return to the conversation. Unresolved conflicts may lead to more resentment and anxiety.
Being open and assertive with your partner is the best way to avoid misunderstandings and resentment.
No one is a mind reader. Remember that you and your partner are just that, partners, not enemies. Look for a solution you both are happy with. Follow some rules for conflicts to be fair and focused.
Using these strategies can help you navigate conflicts in your relationship in a way that will help you to concentrate on each other and bring you both together.
Jenna Wonish-Mottin, MSW, LCSW, RPT – www.calmcenteredcounseling.com
One thing that stands out for me in working with women, and in working with couples is the common misconception that our partner is supposed to be our therapist.
It is often the case when working with female clients that I hear the challenges in relationships around this common misconception, and it often leads to conflict.
Women are hardwired for communication, while men often are not, or at least they are not typically conditioned to be verbally or emotionally very open.
In working with clients, I have seen couples who struggle with conflict because one partner feels it necessary to put all of the emotional baggage on the relationship without realizing that it may be too much for the relationship to hold. It is also common for conflict to arise when there is trouble around communication.
Because we as human beings do not like gaps in information, we often fill those in with our imagination, which may or may not be realistic or even true.
It is important to remember that all you can control is you, so some tips for effective communication may be helpful.
As much as possible when faced with conflict, try using the word “I” instead of “you”, which can create defensiveness.
Another helpful tip is what is called the “sandwich method”.
Start with something that is going well or has improved from your standpoint, bring up the challenge or something that needs to change, followed with a possible solution to the conflict or problem.
Remember, first, we cannot expect our partner to be able to effectively hold our every thought, emotion, want, need and expectation.
Second, we can only control what we think, do, feel and believe, so it is up to us to manage that and effective communication is a good place to start.
Misconceptions about what we think our partner should be or what he is thinking can be damaging to the relationship and can erode it over time by the sheer weight of it and the inevitable disappointment that follows.
This is why it is also important to cultivate a variety of healthy, platonic, relationships and friendships, as well as a therapeutic relationship with a qualified professional from time to time if necessary.
Our relationship with ourself is our foundation, so begin by cultivating that relationship first, and you may find that your relationship with your partner is strengthened and conflict is resolved much more easily.
Lisa King Smith, Ed.S, LPC, CPCS, CCTP, CMHIMP – www.csosolutions.net
First, it’s essential to a. understand that conflict is a natural cycle in any relationship and b. Resolving conflict is an essential tool in your healthy self toolkit.
As someone who’s talked to hundreds of thousands of women about what it takes to make healthy, thriving relationships work – and also as someone who’s been happily married to my husband for 12 years now, this is what I know works.
1. Be Clear
Conflict often arises when there’s a lack of clear communication or a lack of set expectations.
Rather than wait until you’re midway through a shouting match that your needs just aren’t getting met (been there!), why not take a pro-active approach to conflict resolution by clearly communicating needs and expectations on a regular (translation: daily) basis.
That way, you both know what the other person wants, needs and expects, and can see conflict coming when things go awry. And things will eventually go awry!
2. Be Fair
When things to awry, do your best to approach conflict with fairness.
Yes, finger pointing and I told you so! can feel incredibly righteous in a moment, but they’re not the building blocks of a loving relationship (says the woman who tugs at her ear whenever her husband says, “You were right,” with an “I’m sorry, what was that?” just so I can hear it again.)
Being in love with and in relationship with a fellow human means we are all flawed.
And since we’re all flawed, why not be fair about addressing misunderstandings, mistakes, and my bads so that everyone can come out feeling seen, heard, and supported? It may not sound sexy, but a fair partner is definitely sexy!
3. Practice Intuitive Listening
When conflict arises – whether you see and expect it or it shows up unannounced – do your best to avoid waiting for your turn to speak. Instead, actually listen to what your partner has to say, what their frustrations, grievances, and concerns are.
Take them to heart.
And then meet them with compassion as you respond. Even if they’re yelling (Ok, especially if their voice is raised), you don’t have to match their emotional state. Come from a steady, calm place (yes, even if you’re seething inside) so that you can model a more effective conflict resolution style.
4. Stand Your Ground
Finally, don’t be a doormat. Yes, resolving conflict with communication, compassion, and calmness are ideal. And… that doesn’t mean the other person gets to bulldoze over you with their anger, issues, or ego.
Stand up for yourself.
Ask for and expect that your needs can get met, too. If you’re mad, allow yourself to be mad! If you’re sorry, genuinely express your apology. But don’t feel the need to grovel or shrink to please your partner. It may work for them, but trust me, it will never work in the longterm for you.
That’s the key in relationships. You both get to be seen, heard, loved, supported, and allowed to stand your ground.
Lisa Steadman, Relationship Expert – www.lisasteadman.com
To begin, we cannot avoid conflict.
Any time you have two people coming together in a relationship you will have two perspectives – and it’s inevitable that there will be things that you don’t agree on. So conflict comes about before the first word is spoken.
When we don’t bring up a problem we’re having, we often think that we’re “avoiding conflict”.
But we’re not.
That’s because the conflict exists by virtue of the two points of view – and that makes it occur before the first word is spoken about it.
Let’s say your partner wants to visit his relatives for the holidays (again) and you want to go somewhere else. There’s a conflict even though it hasn’t been brought up.
If he says he wants to go and you say nothing, the conflict is still there, and you are “holding” the conflict (in this case, you’re holding 100% of it). But what you’re afraid of is not the conflict itself (as I mentioned, it already exists).
What you’re actually afraid of is the possible consequences of speaking up about it.
Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat (that is, things are going well and you don’t want to spoil things). Maybe you fear that your partner will accuse you of not liking his family.
Or maybe you’ve learned from experience that if you don’t want him get his way that he gets moody, sad, angry, disappointed, passive-aggressive, or have any number of reactions that cause you to feel distant with each other.
That’s why you hold rather than “share” the conflict!
If you decide to hold the conflict, and if you feel that you compromise too often, the risk is that you may start resenting your partner.
And since feelings demand to be expressed, emotions can emerge “sideways.”
That is, you don’t answer a call, you forget his birthday, you get mad about something else, and so on.
If you decide to talk about the conflict, another risk is that communication can get bogged down.
Things can take a turn – they even get personal (“you never listen to me!”).
Your argument escalates and the original conflict is left unattended.
Now you’ve got two problems – the original conflict isn’t settled and you’re hurt and angry with each other when you tried to resolve the conflict.
The other part of the problem is that sometimes we confuse resolving conflict with getting our way.
In other words, we think that the only reason that our partners don’t agree with us is because we haven’t given them enough information.
Since each situation is unique, there is no single answer regarding resolving conflict. But if you and your partner agree to follow a few guidelines, you can be on your way to resolving them.
Here are 8 tips:
1. Keep Away from the Round-and-Round
The Round-and-Round goes something like this: “I told you I was going to have lunch with my ex.” “No you didn’t, you said that your ex called you, but you didn’t say anything about going to lunch.”
“Yes I did” “No you didn’t.” (and so on).
As an alternative, if your partner says that you didn’t say something – and you think you did, it’s better to say, “I thought I did, but maybe I didn’t.”
That way, you’re opening the door to communication – and possibly getting to what is actually upsetting your partner.
2. Avoid Discounting
Discounting is an attitude or belief that what you think is more important – or more “right” – than what your spouse thinks.
Some examples of discounting are speaking on behalf of your partner, rolling your eyes, and not taking your partner’s desires into account.
Instead, realize that quite often there is no right or wrong, but simply two points of view.
3. Steer Clear of Ascribing Motives
Any sentence that starts with “You did this because…” is ascribing a motive. For example, “You didn’t call me back because of what I said yesterday.”
If you want to know why your partner did something, ask. Then accept it at face value.
If you aren’t able to accept what your partner states as true, then you have another important issue to discuss (that is, trust).
4. Be Aware of Your Own Motives
If you’re mad at your partner, be aware of what you want before you speak up.
If the answer is that you want to pick a fight or get back at her, better to wait till you cool down and then talk about it.
5. Pass up being Passive-Aggressive
My definition of passive-aggressive (this includes the Silent Treatment) is simply an indirect way of communicating your feelings.
It can also be a way to exert control, but remember that there’s the original issue and then the problems that can arise if you deal with it by escalating (or diverting) the situation.
Also remember that your ultimate aim is to find a mutually agreeable solution going forward, and retaliation and the Silent Treatment only serve to either escalate or divert the conflict away from that goal.
6. Focus on “I,” not “You”
Begin a conversation from your own point of view. That is, use the word “I” when you’re expressing something that you think or feel instead of “You.”
For example, “I feel uncomfortable that you had lunch with your ex” is more effective that “You shouldn’t have lunch with your ex.”
The second way could put your partner on the defensive and close communication down. The first way prompts your partner to address your feelings about it.
7. Be Direct
If you’re mad, say “I am angry because…” and state your reasons for it.
Avoid asking questions that begin with “Don’t you think…” Rather, directly state how you think or feel.
By keeping these ideas in mind, you may find yourself gaining traction – that is, having disagreements that produce a mutually agreeable solution.
You might find that by incorporating these ideas (and others you’ve come across elsewhere) can help you to have a closer, happier relationship.
8. If you keep trying but don’t find the traction you desire, a therapist could help you get back on track.
Part of a therapist’s role is to interrupt long-standing (communication) patterns.
Just by being present and commenting about what’s going on, a professional can help to break log jams and end stalemates –although her or she can do much more.
It’s our job to also work ourselves out of a job – that is, to provide you with tools – and to practice them – before resuming on your own.
Jeffrey Chernin, Ph.D., MFT – www.jeffreychernin.com
It is much easier to ignore an issue, hope it will go away or improve, or deny its importance altogether. The only problem with this strategy is, it does not work!
Ignoring an area of conflict in a relationship is like ignoring a lump on your breast or the pain you feel in your chest when you exercise.
These pains, whether psychological or physical, point to PROBLEMS seeking RESOLUTION and require,
- Facing the truth about the matter,
- Determining a course of action and
- Carrying through with its execution.
Usually couples wait too long and by the time they arrive in a therapist’s office their issues have, by now, so many layers of hurt, disappointment, anger and regret that the prognosis for repair is bleak.
The likelihood of a good outcome is immensely improved with EARLY INTERVENTION.
This is the first step: Facing the problem.
People familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 Steps will recognize this.
Admitting to oneself that something is wrong and that the way you’ve gone about trying to address the problem does not work, that is the beginning.
Let us now return to the 3 steps toward conflict resolution that I introduced earlier.
We have come back to Step 1: Facing the Problem.
Once you have faced the problem and admitted to yourself that it is not going to get better without your conscious attention to it, you can begin to think and are ready for the next step.
Step 2: Determining a Course of Action.
Imagine talking to your partner. Perhaps try role-playing with a friend or your therapist.
The goal here is to desensitize yourself, to get used to talking about something sensitive or uncomfortable and to cultivate “non-reactivity”.
What is non-reactivity?
Think of gold. Gold is valuable, in part for its solidness and the fact that it does not easily degrade or become modified when contacting other elements.
Something akin to gold’s strength is what you are working to cultivate in terms of your ability to stand your ground in the face of your partner’s responses.
To be clear, I am NOT suggesting that you become completely detached or uncaring; that would not be helpful.
What I AM suggesting is that you may be able to cultivate a way of being in contact with your partner without losing touch with, or track of, your own self, your needs, your wishes (essentially the awareness you have built through Step 1).
This is a skill that can be developed, much as you can cultivate strength or flexibility by working out your body. In fact, psychologically, both attributes are also necessary.
Strength or flexibility, independently, would be inadequate and incomplete without the other.
Finally, Step 3 is the Execution of the Plan.
Having come to understand more about the problem in your relationship and thought about it in terms of the contribution that each of you has made to its genesis and its continuation, and having perhaps practiced ways of delivering the message, you are now ready to have a conversation.
By this time, you have gone through several “rough drafts” and polished up your message.
I am not suggesting that you read a document! Rather, that the preparation that you have put into this already (on your own and with whatever help you’ve had) makes it likely that you can now say what is on your mind with less provocation and attack and greater invitation to your partner.
The invitation is to join in re-working something that has fallen into disrepair.
Try to avoid blaming statements and character attacks and instead, focus on statements you make about yourself.
You can share your concerns, your frustrations, your confusions and also your benign intent (this is very important; you want your partner to know that your effort and invitation is for creation and resolution not destruction and attack).
You are bravely bringing up a sensitive topic or issue with the hope of setting your relationship on a better course.
The existential fact of separateness is why there is INEVITABLE conflict in close relationships. People need different and, at times opposite things.
This is human, normal and unavoidable, and also not something people tend to think about when they fall in love.
- What happens when one person is a spender and the other a saver?
- What happens when one person has a high sex drive and the other has a lower one?
- What happens when one person needs a lot of togetherness and the other needs a lot of space or solitude?
It is difficult, although not impossible to talk about these things.
Sometimes couples collusively “agree” not to speak of these matters because they fear they are too far apart and could never meet in the middle.
And sometimes this is true. It could be that they discover irreconcilable differences.
It may also be, however, that two people are not TOO far apart and, with effort and conscious communication, can cultivate ways of being together in which both parties get enough of their needs met to feel cared for and comfortable.
This does not happen automatically, however, and it rarely happens without talking!
If you are feeling stuck, please find yourself some help. Most people need help to learn how to talk about these things.
Seeking help is actually a sign of strength; it means you are brave enough to face the truth!
Steven Isaacman, PsyD, LMFT, FIPA – www.drstevenisaacman.com
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