Conflict is Natural

Last week, we talked about working on developing a healthy relationship with your spouse. Today, you will learn some tools that will help you when there is conflict in your relationship.

Conflict is normal and actually, conflict breeds intimacy. When you and your spouse are in disagreement it is important to encourage the conflict and healthy resolution. Here are some tools to help that process.

  • When in conflict, listen to your partner. Spend more time listening than talking.
  • Validate their feelings. Let them know you understand (even if you don’t agree!)

It doesn’t matter who is right. In my marital sessions I teach couples to practice saying four statements that are quite effective in conflict resolution:

  • You are right.
  • I was wrong.
  • I’m sorry.
  • I love you.

These four statements de-escalate a conflict when said genuinely to your partner. They don’t need as much time to convince you that they are right. Their defenses decrease and you work through the conflicts faster. I also teach couples not to expect an apology. You don’t need an apology to move on. As a matter of fact, if you wait for one, you will stay stuck harboring resentment.

Hence, I am saying two things: Apologize to your partner, but don’t expect your partner to apologize to you.

  • Let your partner know that you recognize and appreciate their strengths. Whenever there is a conflict it is important to remain balanced. When people are criticized they feel put down and begin to question their worth. No put-downs when fighting! Conflict is resolved more quickly when you balance the conversation with your partner’s strengths and positive qualities (sometimes this takes major thought and rehearsal, but make sure you get it in, because it will make a difference).
  • Remember when you use reflective listening with your partner, don’t get defensive! Use the statement, “This isn’t about me, this is about them.” Continue to work with conflict by using this technique. It will keep you from feeling attacked, which is a normal reaction in conflict.
  • Whenever possible and appropriate, touch your partner while in conflict. When there is a physical connection an unconscious connection remains despite the problems. Talk about your disagreements face-to-face and rest your hand on their knee or stick your feet under them on the couch. I know you’re thinking that when you fight you don’t even want to look at them, much less touch them. This is a cue for you to know that you need to calm yourself down. Although anger is a normal reaction to conflict, it should not be a roadblock to working things out.
  • Lastly, after you have discussed the conflict, give each other some breathing room. Go do something that is active. Exercise, clean the house, wash the car, mow the lawn or do something nurturing. Take a bath; work on your sewing, watch some football. Time-outs give the brain time to process the information. Ask your partner if you can table the discussion for an hour or two or a day. When you return you should be calmer and more solution-oriented.

The toughest part about conflict is feeling confident that you can work things out. It’s important to convey that to your partner. One of the best ways to do that is to resume your normal life and not let the conflict stop you from being close. Couples work through conflict quicker when they don’t hold it over each other’s heads. Conflict is natural. Use these skills and deal with it.

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