Managing Conflict in Relationships
How a couple manages conflict matters for the success and sustainability of a relationship. Emotionally intelligent couples use healthy tools and skills to manage conflict. They understand that they don’t need to agree about everything. What matters for healthy connection is that they use effective strategies for managing conflict.
According to research, the average couple waits about six years before seeking counseling for marital conflicts. By the time they enter couples therapy the relationship is often under significant distress. One of the major problems couples have is learning how to manage conflicts well. Signs that couples are not handling conflicts well are out-of-control arguments, escalated emotions, and avoidance. Symptoms of distress are emotional disconnect, physical withdrawal, absence of positivity, and a lack of empathy.
Learning to manage conflicts well can help unhealthy relationships, not only survive, but thrive. Couples can learn skills that can help improve their relationship. Aim for a happy and stable relationship by learning how to express feelings and needs in healthy ways during conflict. There is hope your relationship can improve by learning new conflict management skills.
Six essential skills for constructive conflict management:
- How you begin a conflict discussion matters. It often determines how the discussion will go. Start gently. Take time to cool down before beginning to discuss a problem. Show respect even when you are in conflict to maintain emotional connection. Keep in mind that it is okay to disagree with your partner. Make an agreement with your partner that it is okay to respectfully disagree. What matters is that we use healthy tools to manage our disagreements.
- Communicate your perspective. Calmly state your position. Describe your perspective, without criticism. Explain, but don’t blame. Stay away from negativity. Avoid using words like “never” and “always.” Instead try using phrases like, “at times” or “sometimes I notice.” These types of phrases are gentler to the ear and are generally more accurate statements.
- Communicate your feelings. Try using, “I feel” and name the feeling (i.e., sad, fearful, disappointed). It’s important that you express your feelings in a positive way. For example, try saying something like, “I feel sad when you have to work so many hours. I miss you.” Rather than, “You are always working. You don’t care about our family.”
- Listen to your partner without interruption. Take turns listening and asking questions. Try to understand the meaning of your partner’s position. You won’t be able to persuade your partner if they don’t feel they are understood. Slow down and really listen. Don’t interrupt. Try and suspend your own thoughts and feelings while your partner is talking.
- Use “I” statements to communicate your needs. Tell your partner what you need in a positive manner, without criticism, resentment or anger. Remember you partner is not a mind reader. Expressing your needs is very important for healthy communication. Try saying something like, “I need to spend more time with you” or “I need to be more physically intimate with you.”
- Show empathy. Keep in mind your partner is also your friend and companion. Hopefully, you really care about one another. Show them by being empathic. Use nonverbal cues to show understanding, like eye contact, turning towards one another, open body language and nodding. All of these convey that you care.
When you face relationship conflicts that you cannot resolve on your own, it is time to seek the help of a relationship expert. Dr. Angela Bisignano is a passionate and compassionate clinical psychologist whose focus is on helping you live your best life. Contact her to schedule a consultation to learn how to improve your relationship and better manage conflict.