All #relationships have conflict. It is a natural part of being human and growing together in intimate #relationships. We learn and grow individually and as a couple by moving through conflict. I often tell my clients that it is not whether you get into conflicts or not that matters (because it’s a given that you will) it’s about how you handle conflict over time. Couples that work on it, can get much better at dealing with conflict. Arguments that may have lasted days or weeks will last only hours and then mere minutes because couples get so adept at working together at resolving them. Below I’ve listed some basic skills to try when a conflict arises. These can be launching points from which to view your conflicts differently and respond in new ways.
These tips are not meant to resolve long-standing, deeply ingrained issues in #relationships. Nor do they apply to situations of abuse or cruelty. These are presented as loose guidelines for couples seeking basic skills for moving through conflict more easily. Couples’ therapy can be a very effective way to develop more skills, establish new patterns of relating and reinforce strengths in a #relationship as well as address challenging topics that can’t be successfully handled at home.
1. View your spouse as a partner not the enemy. Often times couples get caught in a right versus wrong dynamic that can permeate almost every disagreement. Recognize that what your spouse is saying may be true for them. If she says, “you didn’t even help me clean the house before the guests came” try to hear her underlying message of “I needed more help”. It tends to be a knee jerk reaction to get defensive and want to list everything you DID do in order to prove she is wrong. What good does that really do? Instead, I encourage clients to validate their partners feelings such as “I didn’t know you felt that way. I’m sorry. You must have been so worn out”. Express caring to your partner and give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they aren’t trying to attack you but are feeling so overwhelmed and hurt it’s coming out that way. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. This type and quality of listening to your partner has the potential to bring you closer immediately.
2. Look at the larger picture versus this one infraction. It’s important to keep the positives about your spouse close to you at all times. It’s easy to get caught up in small disagreements to the point that they feel much bigger than they need to. Take some time to journal or think about when you first met, times you’ve felt especially close, ways your life would be negatively impacted if they were gone. Visit these thoughts regularly in order to strengthen them. These positive feelings will help give you much needed perspective when an argument ensues. It can work like warm water on ice, melting the problem down to almost nothing.
3. Identify what you can change in yourself. When couples first enter therapy with me it is more common than not that they have a long list of complaints about their partner. The woman may say that her partner is distant, detached, works too much etc. Her partner may complain that she nags, is too needy, is a perfectionist. Where I see the most change within a couple is when one person starts to take responsibility for their part in the problem. The focus shifts from the other person to a look inward. The questions to ask are, “what can I control? What can I do differently? How can I get my needs met even if the other person can’t change right now?” This usually creates a snowball effect in which both people in the #relationship start to take more responsibility for their behavior thus changing the dynamic for the better.
In short, your partner is your ally. Remember the good times and the positive history you have together. Own your part of the conflict and validate your partner’s feelings. Many smaller conflicts arise out of everyday, normal stressors. We need to support each other in our #relationships and realize that we’re in this together.
Tana J. DeSouza, LMFT is a practicing marriage and family therapist with an office in South Pasadena, CA. To schedule a consultation or an appointment, she can be reached at email@example.com or (626) 319-7028.
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