All relationships will have some element of conflict at various times. But the couples who know how to use conflict to move towards a more intimate and close bond with each other know that they shouldn’t avoid conflict.
Instead, they view differing opinions as a way to better understand their partner’s point of view. And when you better understand your partner, you naturally increase the level of closeness and intimacy in your relationship.
Let’s look at some ways you can look at a friction-filled issue that is happening in your relationship and use that moment to build more closeness and understanding between you and your partner.
Recognize that conflict in a close relationship is inevitable
It does not spell “doom” for the relationship. It is part of life and part of sharing a life with someone else.
The soft approach to conflict
Try to work on it before it escalates into more than it is. You and your spouse have a number of hot-ticket items, things that can quickly escalate into true fights.
They could be tangible tasks, like him forgetting to take the trash out to the curb on pickup day. Or they could be personality quirks, like his constant humming or always checking his phone while you are trying to have a conversation with him.
You can use preemptive action to ward off a large fight while at the same time increasing your communication skills within the couple.
That’s a win-win, right? Here’s how you do it.
Identify the recurrent issues
These could be finances, in-laws, child-rearing, how you spend weekends, sex, alcohol or other substance abuse, lack of acknowledgment.
Rank them according to the seriousness
Which ones send your blood pressure soaring, and which ones could you brush off if need be?
Breakdown how you react to these issues
Do you just roll your eyes, or do you jump right in and start the fight with name-calling and dredging up past ills?
In other words, do you do zero to ten in 2 seconds, or are you more of a slow-burn?
Now, let’s look at your behavior when conflict presents itself. To reap the benefits of fighting constructively, it’s best to have a plan in place before fights occur.
Here are some ideas to help you make a general plan of “attack” for turning conflict into an opportunity for intimacy.
Identify what the exact issue is
You will not be able to work through things if you aren’t clear on what the nature of the problem is.
Whose issue is it? Yours? Their’s? Shared?
Usually, one person in the relationship is more attached to the issue than the other.
Is this a single-issue conflict, or a multi-issue one?
Gain clarity on what is at stake, and if perhaps one thing is masking another.
What is your main concern about this issue?
How would you like to see this issue resolved?
What is your spouse’s main concern?
How would he like to see this issue resolved?
How important is it in the grand scheme of the relationship?
Is it something that has an impact on the entire family, like a substance addiction, or is it just pesky forgetfulness, like forgetting to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer.
Ask yourself if the issue can be resolved
According to relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable.
But don’t let that figure depress you.
Some issues can be resolved with a good discussion and a plan to move forward. These are usually tangible items. But others, such as personality-based issues, have no quick-fix. You can still learn from those.
Rather than look to resolve the issues, aim to manage them.
Life-lessons such as understanding, acceptance, and empathy can be called in to help you view those annoying personality traits as part of the person you love, and help you come to a realization that this is who he is and these traits needn’t be a deal-breaker.
Work through conflict in a healthy way
When you are knee-deep in conflict, remember to use healthy communication skills, such as
- Giving the speaker ample time to voice their viewpoint without interruption or comments from you. When it is your turn, your partner should do the same.
- Giving the speaker a safe space in which to voice their viewpoint. This means you maintain eye contact (and no eye-rolling, please), and you acknowledge that you are present and listening by nodding your head affirmatively or saying a soft “I understand”.
- If you can’t find a perfect solution, find a great compromise. Because 69% of relationship problems are unsolvable, there are going to be a lot of occasions where you and your spouse are going to have to work towards an acceptable compromise.
Finding that compromise can provide you with a good opportunity to build closeness, as you listen to each other’s proposals for what is acceptable to them and what is not. Intimacy builds as you gently negotiate with each other until you will eventually meet in the middle, with the goal being that both of you feel satisfied with the outcome of the conflict.
Come around to the truth that conflict is a part of any relationship
Couples should look at conflict not as a sign that the marriage is breaking down, but as a sign that both of you are human with your own points of view, needs, and unique quirks. In other words, come around to the truth that conflict is a part of any close relationship, and means that you are growing.
Learning how to constructively manage the conflict is actually a great gift that you can take away from these moments. The skills you learn from working through disagreements are transferable to other areas in your life where you are interacting with people.