Many couples who experience struggles in their relationship try to avoid confronting the issues that are causing problems. Resentments, back stories, past conflicts, defensiveness (just to name a few) are extremely unhealthy for a relationship. Yes, conflicts are difficult, but being able to manage them by communicating effectively and lovingly is essential for long term stability.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman explains the magic ratio of a healthy conflict is 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative. This isn’t to suggest that we should attempt to get rid of conflict, rather it demonstrates the importance of being able to work through them in a respectful, loving way.
Disagreements and difficult issues are going to come up from time to time. What we choose to do in those moments is critical.
Here are some healthy ways to begin the mend!
1. Get in touch with your feelings! – Emotional fluency is crucial to healthy relationships. Rather than cover up and ignore uncomfortable feelings, choose to be honest and open. If you need time to self-soothe before discussing, ask for it. When you are ready to talk in a calm and respectful manner, let your words and emotions match.
2. Make eye contact – Stop what you are doing, and choose to focus solely on each other. This means put down any distractions, turn off the TV, and turn towards rather than turn away.
3. Remember the Power of “I” – “I” statements are a wonderful means of communicating because they maintain a respectful attitude toward the receiver while enabling you to say how it is on your side. In healthy two-way communication, practicing these statements not only helps your assertiveness, but also increases your self-confidence in the process. Using “I” statements creates an opportunity to better understand each other while avoiding the finger pointing “you” statements.
4. (To the listener) Put off your agenda – Yes, you will have your chance to speak from your own “I” perspective. Right now, your job is to listen to the words. Repeat back what you have heard, and try to validate how your partner could have seen things that way. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with them, but simply, that from their perspective it makes sense.
5. Identify what your part was and what you could do differently next time – Perhaps you yelled, blamed, maybe you shut down, used sarcasm? Whatever the part you played, be accountable, apologize, and commit to doing things differently next time.
6. Speak the positive need from your partner – Within every conflict there is a dream situation. Take time to identify what you need differently, and be prepared to ask for it. “I” need Connection? Touch? Quality Time? Help?
There are two options in conflict
Either do nothing and allow the situation to drive a further wedge into the relationship, or do the difficult work of talking openly and honest about it. As uncomfortable as it is, working through these situations can bring true intimacy to any relationship if you both are willing to put in the work.
Finding the right relationship counsellor is important. As a Marriage.com couples therapist, I can help if you are having difficulty in building the bridge back together or if you just want to learn some new ways of connecting!
All the best!