Every couple has conflicts. In some couple, differences and conflicts are a serious problem. In others, differences seem to be resolved fairly easily, without resulting in battles or serious arguments.
Think about the kinds of conflicts that happen in your relationship on a typical day. These are some common ones:
- Disagreeing over responsibilities. From household chores to planning activities and managing finances, there are many dynamics in a relationship that can cause tensions to flare.
- Conflicts about how things should be done. When two people with strong opinions form a relationship, they can have different opinions on the best approach to different situations. Learning to compromise and choose your battles is key to avoiding conflicts in a relationship.
- Personality conflicts. You’re a morning person. Your partner is a night owl. How do you learn to blend your personalities and interests?
WHAT ARE SOME TYPICAL MISTAKES WHEN DEALING WITH CONFLICT?
Most often, conflict becomes a problem when people respond in ineffective ways. Here are some examples of nonproductive responses to conflict:
1. Avoid the conflict.
2. Change the subject.
3. React emotionally—become aggressive, abusive, hysterical, or frightening.
4. Find someone to blame.
5. Make excuses.
6. Let someone else deal with it.
All of these responses to conflict have two things in common: They are all nonproductive. All of them are destructive, some physically. This is why learning to manage conflict is so important.
WHAT ARE THE KEY SKILLS FOR MANAGING CONFLICT?
The following communication skills will help you deal with conflicts in your relationship.
1. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. They sound less accusing and place the responsibility for the statement on you.
2. Avoid name-calling and put-downs. They are inflammatory and only make the other person defensive and angry. This escalates the conflict.
3. Soften your tone. Listen to how you sound. A softer, friendlier tone of voice helps lessen the hostility of your message.
4. Take a time-out. Some couples have an agreement to make the time-out sign (make a “T” with your hands) when a discussion escalates into an argument. Say, “Let’s take a break and cool down.”
5. Acknowledge the other person’s point of view.
6. Watch your body language. You escalate hostile feelings when you roll your eyes, cross your arms in front of your body, or tap your foot. Do your best to convey openness with your body.
7. Watch your language. Use specific words and facts. Stay away from generalities.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT CONFLICTS IN A RELATIONSHIP?
Think of situations in your life where there don’t seem to be many conflicts. What might be happening there? Chances are, you are practicing one of the following conflict-prevention skills:
1. Address issues before they become problems.
2. Be aware of triggers.
3. Have a process for resolving conflicts.
You may also find that couples counseling and therapy can help you develop tools to better address conflicts when they arise.