More Conflict Management Tips
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Conflict is inevitable in relationships. It can be as simple as arguing, or sulking, over who chooses the movie or about one of you constantly leaving the toilet seat up. Or conflict can be as complicated as differences in spiritual practices and child disciplinary and parenting practices. The amazing part is that conflict can actually lead you to more intimacy if you and your partner do a few things… More intimacy after conflict?! Yes it is possible…
First, slow down the conversation … ss-ll-ooo-www… it…. way …. down…so that you can stay present, stay in your heart, and in the intention of listening and hearing the importance of what your partner has to say… why is this so important to them? Is there an experience in their past that this brings to mind? Does this issue involve conflicting values? Often, when listening to someone, we automatically begin to structure our response, attempting to defend our position… don’t do this when talking to your partner about matters of the heart. Because, when you are thinking of your response, you are not fully listening to them and feeling into what they are sharing and you may miss the meaning and importance of this topic.
Second, bite size the conversation. Focus on one topic only and avoid the impulse to add related topics or additional requests or complaints. One thing at a time, until that is complete, and then take a break or move on to the next topic if you both agree.
Third, stay present and aware of your body while you listen and while you speak. Notice for any signs that you are getting dysregulated, meaning that you are getting out of your window of tolerance and becoming agitated, reactive, or shutdown and withdrawn. These are all signs that you need to pause and do things that soothe your nervous system so that you are able to stay in the thinking part of your brain and not in your emotion/limbic part of your brain which results in reactionary responses. Taking a time-out before things become heated and escalated is wise. You may be surprised at how much better you can think through, communicate, and resolve issues if you stay regulated.
Fourth, remember that your partnership can be a place of safety and security for you both. You can be allies, or if you are not allies in this moment, it is possible to become allies for the physical, emotional, and mental benefit of both. Imagine the partnership as a place in which both individuals can relax and feel accepted, safe, and loved rather than worrying about defending against attack and criticism. It is a place where each partner can ask for help, receive support, and share vulnerabilities without risk of harm. Both partners have the responsibility to take care of this safety and security system, if not, both partners will suffer.
Terry Real, Ph.D., the author of several relationship books including The New Rules of Marriage, lists 5 Losing Strategies for relationships that you can work to eliminate from your relational repertoire:
1. Being right. Right according to whom? Every relationship has multiple truths- you are different people with different perspectives- different backgrounds, different experiences, and different wants and needs Essentially, you are both right. Trying to assert your version of events as the right one only often creates greater distance between you and your partner... your partner will feel devalued in their experience. Sorting out differences in a relationship is not a matter of who is right or wrong. Your “right” may be relative to your value system without taking into account the values of your partner.
2. Unbridled self-expression. This is often positioned as honesty without looking at the potential impact it will have on the other. It is never okay to say everything that crosses your mind for the sake of full honesty... because this often leads to you hurting your partner through you ‘speaking your truth’. Try authentically communicating what you feel rather than the thoughts, opinions, and assumptions you may have about the situation. One leads to connecting and the other often leads to attack and alienation.
3. Controlling your partner. This one often results in resentment and rebellion because most people do not like to feel controlled and it’s never really a successful strategy. The dislike of being told what to do or forced to do something by another only grows as we get older. Whether it is direct or indirect (manipulation) controlling, it crosses the boundaries of the relationship and may create more distance between you and your partner instead of working to connect. Often the person on the receiving end of this control feels like a victim and loses trust and connection to their partner.
4. Retaliation. This can happen as a result of feeling justified in hurting for the sake of being hurt. You cross a boundary when you retaliate against your partner even when you feel the victim in the situation. This brings a false sense of power and will lead to damaging your relationship and set a bad precedent for future behavior. While you may feel justified in retaliating from your position, particularly when you feel hurt, the reality is you rarely get the result you want. There is a difference between retaliation and standing up for yourself. You can stand up for yourself and assert your position without attacking. And, when you are able to do this, you can create greater intimacy in your relationship.
5. Withdrawal. Withdrawal can look like giving up and shutting down in relationship. It often feels like the partner goes silent, disappears internally, or distances physically. Withdrawal is painful for both of you… it creates resentment and makes it difficult to resolve the problem. The person who withdraws often does so as a way to gain a sense of power and control and can be used as a passive aggressive manner for retaliation. Time outs to de-escalate are a good and healthy alternative to shutting down and withdrawing. Do this by agreeing to take some time apart, state a time to return to the conversation, and then share your part of the experience. This helps build trust, safety, and intimacy.
Wishing you much love and happiness,