How to Have Conflict in a Relationship - The Productive Way
Conflict is often the thing we try to avoid in relationships. We will try to placate our partner in order to reduce our conflict footprint. What if I told you that it can also serve to strengthen the relationship?
Every relationship is going to have at one point in time a situation where both parties are going to disagree and be at odds with one another. This is not only normal but creates the ability for both parties to have a dialogue about points of view that they disagree with. John Gottman, the founder of the Gottman Institute and a pioneer in relationship research, has stated that there is such a thing as a Conflict Blueprint. Gottman lays out the ground rules for a proper conversation and discloses the importance of there not being a “winner” or “loser”. Instead, he encourages clients to remove persuasion from their agenda when discussing an area of conflict. In this way, your partner is able to listen to what you have to say without becoming defensive and assuming that they are being “controlled”.
Exploring the meaning behind your gridlocked problem is a great way to dismantle the defensiveness of the topic and allows for the partner’s vulnerability to show. Once each partner is able to disclose what their argument means to them and why they struggle to “let go” of it, this allows compassion and understanding to exist. Conflict styles in partners are also something that is important to touch on. Some partners prefer to avoid conflict whereas others prefer to dive headfirst into it. It is important for each partner to do an inventory and identify what their style resembles. If one partner struggles with “flooding” during a conflict then it is important that they have a break and then return to the conversation. The goal of having these solution-focused conversations is to ensure that everyone is able to utilize their skills and hone new ones.
3 Ways to Have a Conflict:
One person should be the speaker and the other one should be the listener. The speaker would begin to disclose their part without criticizing their partner and using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. The listener would engage themselves in the conversation and attempt to postpone their counterargument in order to hear out their partner. It is also important to state a positive need from your partner in order for them to feel that you desire them and the relationship to prosper.
Each partner will take turns being the speaker and the listener. For this exercise, it is important for the partner who is the listener to summarize what their significant other is saying in order for the speaker to feel that they have been heard. This can feel odd at first but it serves as a deterrent for things to get lost in translation. You may ask your partner if the manner in which you stated back what you heard was to their satisfaction. In this way it allows for the other person to feel heard and cared for that you are taking the time to ensure that their story is said the way they would like for it to be.
As you and your partner are discussing your area of conflict it is important to disclose your core needs surrounding the issue. If they can see why this issue is so important to you, they will be able to have empathy and you can work together on an area of flexibility surrounding the core need.
If you and your partner find yourself tiptoeing around arguments in order to avoid conflict it is important to note that disagreeing does not equate to a failure in the relationship. It is important to have a point of view and different viewpoints than your partner. You did not marry someone who is a carbon copy of you, their views will be complementary but not identical to yours. The important thing to remember is to keep a positive perspective on your partner and not assume that they are trying to shame or belittle you. You both have two very different realities and must honor one another’s views on them. Validating and creating an environment where there is empathy and understanding will allow each person to feel heard in the relationship.
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