Many couples fear that experiencing conflict is a sign that their relationship is in distress. However, this is not necessarily true. Healthy individuals bring their whole self into a relationship; their values, their tastes in music, and even some “annoying habits”. Sometimes the very things that caused you to fall in love with your partner, can become a source of conflict over time.
It is not the absence of conflict, but how conflict is resolved that indicates the health of a relationship. When couples learn to resolve their conflicts well, it can actually increase feelings of closeness and intimacy between them.
Sometimes it’s helpful to establish a few ground rules before engaging in conflict with your significant other. Below are 3 tips that may help you work through your next disagreement:
1. Ask for clarification.
Sometimes the message your partner is sending you is not the same message you are receiving. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume the worst of your partner. Many times, we hear what our partner is saying through our own distorted lens and may read a tone or an intention that was not intended by our partner. When we take the time to ask for clarification, it communicates to our partner that we are listening and gives you the opportunity to better understand their intended meaning.
2. Don’t interrupt each other
When partners agree to give each other “equal airtime” to express themselves, it fosters mutual respect. When you offer to let your partner voice their position, they will be more likely to listen to your perspective in return. When we speak over our partner, we are sending the message that our opinion is more important than theirs. This tends to “escalate” disagreements and often ends in one of two ways: a shouting match where neither partner feels heard or understood; or one partner will shut down while the other does all the talking. Either way there is no resolution. Giving each other the opportunity to be heard, helps both partners feel valued and strengthens the connection between them.
3. Take a “time-out”
When your partner says something that triggers an emotional reaction in you (as only a partner can) take a moment to pause before you respond. If you feel your heart racing and your jaw clenching, it might be wise to let your partner know you need a “time-out” before you can finish the conversation. When we respond in anger, we are more likely to do or say things we will later regret. Anger creates a lot of energy that is better burned off by taking a walk or a trip to the gym. It’s important not to use a time-out as an “escape hatch”; conflicts need to be resolved, but they are more effectively resolved when both partners are in a calmer state of mind.
While disagreements are inevitable, sometimes relationships need the extra support and guidance of a professional counsellor. If you need help reconnecting with your partner, call me for a free phone consultation. I have training in emotionally-focussed couple’s therapy and can support you in regaining or strengthening your connection with each other.