It’s not uncommon to see conflict in a long-term relationship. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for couples to clash from time to time — after all, they’re two separate people with differing opinions. Some couples try to avoid conflict at all costs. The problem with sweeping uncomfortable subjects under the rug is that deep-seated emotions remain unresolved and can lead to severe consequences later on down the line.
Conflicts are going to happen, so it’s essential that you handle them in a healthy way. When conflicts are mismanaged, your relationship will often be affected negatively. However, when conflicts are handled properly, your relationship will flourish, and you’ll grow that much closer together. For the sake of your relationship, it’s crucial that you learn positive conflict resolution skills.
Understanding why couples have conflict
People rarely have a dispute with one another when they agree on something. Conflict only occurs when differences arise — whether that be over ideas, values, motivations, or anything else. From the surface, some differences may seem inconsequential, but strong feelings can cause even the smallest matters to grow into something massive.
Everyone has base needs. We all want to be more intimate with our partners or to feel respected on essential household decisions. When these feelings are put in jeopardy that’s when small-scale conflicts can grow into something much more significant.
Identifying and resolving conflicting needs
Before you can address the needs of your partner, you need to understand your own needs. If you’re unable to dig deep and understand what’s truly bothering you, then it’s extremely difficult to communicate with others and conflict will inevitably arise. For example, seemingly petty arguments about taking out the trash or leaving the toilet seat up are often facades that mask the true issues.
All too often conflict arises in romantic relationships due to differing needs that are never truly understood. As a result couples argue, distance themselves from one another, and ultimately separate by breaking up or getting a divorce. It’s only when you recognize the fact that you have conflicting needs that you can move forward and find a way to resolve your issues and ultimately grow closer together as a couple.
Conflict resolution can only work if you’re able to do these things:
• Control your emotions and your behavior – Emotions tend to make us act irrational and say and do things we usually wouldn’t do. Reigning in your emotions will allow you to think clearly and communicate without threatening, frightening, or yelling at your partner.
- Identify and be respectful of differences – The first step is to be aware of your differences. The next step is to be respectful of those differences. Doing so will allow you to resolve conflict that much faster
- Manage your stress in a calm manner – Staying calm allows you to manage your thoughts and interpret any situation without jumping to conclusions.
- Pay attention to your partner – Listen to your partner when they’re expressing their feelings.
Managing and resolving stress in healthy and unhealthy ways
Conflict often cuts deep emotionally, causing both parties to experience hurt feelings or disappointment. Addressing conflict in an unhealthy manner is often what leads to distance in relationships and eventually divorce. However, approaching conflict resolution in a healthy way allows you to work through your differences and builds a much stronger bond.
Characteristics of unhealthy responses to conflict include:
- Expecting every outcome to end poorly
- Avoiding conflict out of fear
- An inability to explain important matters with your partner
- Losing control of your emotions during conflict
- Withdrawing your love due to conflicting differences
Characteristics of healthy responses to conflict include:
- Seeking compromise first rather than punishing your partner
- Learning to forgive and forget
- Recognizing important matters and responding to them in a timely manner
- Understanding that conflict resolution benefits both parties
Essential conflict resolution skills to have
Your ability to manage and resolve conflict successfully comes down to several essential skills. Just like any skill set out there, these skills can be learned and honed to perfection through daily practice.
1) Improve your nonverbal communication skills
Verbal communication is important, but it’s often nonverbal skills that tell you what a person is really feeling. For example, your partner may tell you they’re fine, but if they’re avoiding eye contact, keeping their distance, have no desire to be touched, or if their tone of voice is shaky, then there is obviously an issue that needs to be resolved.
Paying attention to these nonverbal cues while in the midst of conflict will help you to identify what your partner is really feeling. Therefore you can respond to these nonverbal cues which in turn will allow you to get to the root of the matter and build more trust. Keeping your voice calm, displaying genuinely concerned expressions on your face, and a strong, but reassuring touch will go a long way when it comes to resolving conflict.
2) Learn to relieve stress quickly
It can be challenging to stay calm and relaxed during a heated exchange, but this is a vital aspect of conflict resolution. Allowing your emotions to run out of control will only make the situation worse. If you have problems controlling your emotions and subsequently your stress levels find ways to relieve your stress as quickly as you can so you can center yourself.
There are many stress relief methods that work effectively — baking, relaxing, exercise — each person is different. Find what works for you and practice relieving stress quickly.
3) Employ humor to deal with conflicts
Some issues are difficult to address, but doing so in a humorous manner will likely make the situation more bearable for both parties. Keep in mind that using humor in tense situations can backfire if you’re not tactful.
Make sure your partner is laughing with you, or they may think you’re not taking the situation seriously. If you’re able to use humor effectively, you can quickly diffuse tense situations and even create more intimacy in your relationship due to your ability to work through your problems in such a light-hearted way.
4) Learn to identify and manage your emotions
Emotional awareness is key to conflict resolution. If you’re incapable of identifying your own emotions the likelihood of identifying the emotions of your partner isn’t very high. You may think you understand your own feelings, but you might be surprised by how often you push down strong feelings of fear, anger, and sadness to help you cope with certain situations.
Being deeply in tune with your feelings is integral to effectively identifying and managing conflict. If you hold down your emotions out of fear of losing control, then you will significantly impair your ability to handle the conflicts that will arise in your relationship.
Conflict management tips
Resolving the conflicts in your relationship can be hard because it requires a great deal of restraint on your part. You have to be emotionally mature, willing to compromise, and have empathy. You can improve your ability to identify and resolve conflict with these tips:
- Always be willing to forgive – It doesn’t matter the severity of the conflict, if you’re not willing to forgive your partner then your relationship will not last. Reaching a resolution requires that you move past the urge to punish your partner which creates a “tit for tat” mentality that will ultimately create more conflict in your relationship.
- Your first priority should be your relationship – Many people focus on winning arguments rather than focusing on strengthening their relationship. Be willing to concede specific arguments if it means you can strengthen your bond with your partner and ultimately resolve your conflict.
- Be willing to let certain things go – If you and your partner feel strongly about your points of view then agree to disagree and move forward. If your partner wants to keep arguing you can simply stop arguing and move on. After all, it takes two people to fight.
- Pick your battles – Some battles are simply not worth the time and energy investment. If the battle is truly minor than be willing to back off to avoid unnecessary conflict.
- Focus on what’s happening in the present – Holding on to old hurts will only anchor you to the past and stop you from moving forward. Work on letting go of events that happened in the past and focus on what you can do here and now to reach a resolution.
Rules for fighting fair
Fights are inevitable, but there should still be some ground rules in play to keep the situation under control.
- Don’t make generalizations – Making statements such as “always” and “never” is a generalization that is often inaccurate and will more likely than not heighten the conflict.
- Avoid shutting away your emotions – Shutting down emotionally and backing away from the fight without resolving your conflict can result in more anger and frustration. Continue communicating until your conflict has been resolved.
- Stay calm – Try not to overreact. Give your partner time to say what they have on their mind. Doing so will prompt them to do the same when it’s your turn to speak.
- Don’t add up old grievances – Creating a list of old grievances and “stockpiling” them to bring out in future arguments is never a good idea. Resolve your disputes as they appear and move on.
- Don’t exaggerate – Exaggerating how you feel will only mask your true emotions and it’ll be that much more difficult to resolve your conflict.
- Avoid “low blows” – Attacking your partner in an area where they are sensitive will only push them to distrust you and make them feel vulnerable.
- Avoid making accusations – Accusing your partner of something will only push them to defend themselves rather than have a real conversation with you. Push for the facts rather than making baseless accusations based on how you feel.
- Be specific about your grievances – Being vague will likely lead to misunderstandings. Conflict resolution requires that you’re 100% clear on your intentions.
Learning how to listen to resolve and manage conflict
When emotions are high people rarely say what they’re truly feeling deep down. Learning to listen to what your partner is feeling rather than just what they’re saying will help you to get to the root of the problem and help you empathize on a deeper level.
Tips to improve your listening skills:
- Make a habit of repeating what your partner said and ask if you’re understanding their points correctly
- Resist the urge to jump in and defend yourself before your partner has finished speaking. Wait until you’ve heard the entirety of their message before taking your turn to speak
- Listen to the reasons why your partner is upset.
- Ask if there are any unspoken issues between the two of you.
Resolving conflict the right way
Resolving conflict takes emotional maturity and practice. It can be difficult, especially when you feel you’re in the right. However, you should always work on getting to the root of your conflicts and moving past them completely and utterly.
Unfortunately, there will be instances where conflict resolution may fail in your relationship, and divorce becomes inevitable. In such cases, turn to the highly experienced attorneys at Kales & Kales, PLC to help you reach a fair and satisfying resolution in your divorce through mediation. Contact us today and discover how our keen focus and innovative solutions can help to ensure the results you desire.