What to Do When Conflict Arises

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Disagreements in a relationship are not only
normal but, if constructively resolved, actually strengthen the relationship.
It is inevitable that there will be times of sadness, tension, or outright
anger between you and your partner. The source of these problems may lie in
unrealistic/unreasonable demands, unexplored expectations, or unresolved
issues/behaviors in one partner or in the relationship. Resolving conflicts
requires honesty, a willingness to consider your partner’s perspective even if
you don’t fully understand it, and lots of communication.

Healthy communication is critical, especially
when there are important decisions regarding sex, career, marriage, and family
to be made. The following are some guidelines for successful communication and
conflict resolution.
  • Understand
    Each Others’ Family Patterns. 
    Find out how conflicts were
    managed (or not managed) in your partner’s family, and talk about how
    conflict was approached (or avoided) in your own family. It is not unusual
    for couples to discover that their families had different ways of
    expressing anger and resolving differences. If your family wasn’t good at
    communicating or resolving conflict constructively, give yourself
    permission to try out some new ways of handling conflict.
  • Timing
    Counts.
     Contrary
    to previous notions, the best time to resolve a conflict may not be
    immediately. It is not unusual for one or both partners to need some time
    to cool off. This “time-out’ period can help you avoid saying or
    doing hurtful things in the heat of the moment, and can help partners more
    clearly identify what changes are most important. Remember – if you are
    angry with your partner but don’t know what you want yet, it will be
    nearly impossible for your partner to figure it out!
  • Establish
    an Atmosphere of Emotional Support.
     Emotional support involves
    accepting your partner’s differences and not insisting that he or she meet
    your needs only in the precise way that you want them met. Find out how
    your partner shows his or her love for you, and don’t set absolute
    criteria that require your partner to always behave differently before
    you’re satisfied.
  • Agree
    to Disagree and Move On.
     Most couples will encounter
    some issues upon which they will never completely agree. Rather than continuing
    a cycle of repeated fights, agree to disagree and negotiate a compromise
    or find a way to work around the issue.
  • Distinguish
    between things you want versus things you need from your partner.
     For
    example, for safety reasons, you might need your partner to remember to
    pick you up on time after dark. But calling you several times a day may
    really only be a “want.”
  • Clarify
    Your Messages. 
    A clear message involves a respectful but direct
    expression of your wants and needs. Take some time to identify what you
    really want before talking to your partner. Work on being able to describe
    your request in clear, observable terms. For example, you might say,
    “I would like you to hold my hand more often” rather than the
    vague, “I wish you were more affectionate.”
  • Discuss
    One Thing at a Time.
     It can be tempting to list your concerns or
    grievances, but doing so will likely prolong an argument. Do your best to
    keep the focus on resolving one concern at a time.
  • Really
    Listen.
     Being
    a good listener requires the following: (a) don’t interrupt, (b) focus on
    what your partner is saying rather than on formulating your own response,
    and (c) check out what you heard your partner say. You might start this
    process with: “I think you are saying…” Or “what I understood
    you to say was…” This step alone can prevent misunderstandings that
    might otherwise develop into a fight.
  • Restrain
    Yourself.
     Research
    has found that couples who “edit” themselves and do not say all
    the angry things they may be thinking are typically the happiest.
  • Adopt
    a “Win-Win” Position.
     A “win-win” stance
    means that your goal is for the relationship, rather than for either
    partner, to “win” in a conflict situation. Ask yourself:
    “Is what I am about to say (or do) going to increase or decrease the
    odds that we’ll work this problem out?”

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