Managing Conflict in Relationship or How to Win-Win versus Win-Lose
Win/Win = We both benefit. Remember, when you are in a partnership you are both on the same team, you are not competitors.
Win/Lose = Someone wins, someone loses. It’s a competition of sorts and is a recipe for dysfunction. This leads to more feelings of isolation rather than intimacy.
Conflict is inevitable, and healthy, in relationships.
Conflict + Repair = Intimacy
Have you noticed how much random junk mail accumulates each week?! I know at my house I end up recycling several pieces of mail each day- mail that arrives in my mailbox that I don’t even open (and yes, I do regularly subscribe to those websites that take you off lists, but it doesn’t work 100%, unfortunately).If I would continue to bring the mail in without sorting through it and recycling/trashing the junk mail I would end up with stacks of letters and flyers that would take over a room quickly. I’ve seen this happen when I get back from a trip- my mail fills the dining room table! The same goes with accumulated irritations and issues that stack up in a relationship…. Things left unsaid. Irritations that are swept under the rug. Issues left unattended accumulate and begin to take over the relationship.
This can happen when your partner says or does something that could easily and quickly be addressed, such as leaving their dirty laundry all over the bedroom or forgetting to pay a bill or making a comment to friends that leaves you feeling criticized. The risk in this is that before long you create a laundry list of issues that can be used as ammunition- a list of irritations to drop in once you and your partner begin a discussion or dialogue of importance which becomes a chance to address unrelated, yet important issues, leaving your partner feeling ambushed. For example: you are upset about your partner forgetting, again, to take out the trash… as you simmer in this irritation you recall a list of other things your partner forgets…and at the end of this simmering you are left with a hundred different reasons to prove that they don’t love or value you. And, at the end of it all, you are left wondering how one small but important irritation ended with the silent treatment or a yelling match. Sometimes this simmering builds and triggers deep emotional wounds that lead to acting out- flirting with a co-worker, not fulfilling a promise you made to your partner, etc.
It can be a different. You can have more intimacy and understanding. Conflict does not have to be something to avoid. We often grow up in situations where we have not witnessed healthy conflict, so our hesitation to state our feelings and needs is understandable. However, I am here to tell you that you can do this… and your relationships will benefit from your courage, care and love. It may feel risky and clunky at first, but with practice you will find that it works!
Conflict + Repair = Intimacy
Pick a good time to have a conversation- this is usually not right after work or before bedtime when you are exhausted. You may have to create some space in the day when both of you are fed, rested, moderately calm, and have time to connect. Have the initial intention of having a discussion to come to more of an understanding of each other’s perspective before moving to solving a problem or making a compromise.
Start gently and softly. Dr. John Gottman’s couples research suggests that arguments tend to end on the same note they begin. If you begin with a calm invitation to discussion, you will likely end the conversation with more understanding and less tension. If you begin with a harsh attack, the argument will likely escalate from there and end in anger and tension.
“I” instead of “You” statements are less critical and put the person into a more receptive state. And, to amp this up even more, make the “I” statement about how you are feeling: “I felt criticized when you complained about how the car was out of gas” or “I feel sad when you leave in the morning without saying goodbye”. Versus the opposite: “You accused me of using all the gas in the car and not filling it up” or “You are so rude! You leave every morning without saying anything”. Do you hear the difference?...
Repair quickly and often. When we catch a moment of irritation or conflict early we can immediately address our part (how we feel in the moment or what we said/did that the other reacted to), address the issue to clear up any misunderstanding or learn about how our behavior affected the other, and make an action to complete the repair. Ask your partner what he/she needs from you to move forward or tell your partner what you need from them, and then follow through. Take responsibility and apologize for your part and be aware of any triggers that may have influenced your response in the situation. Triggers could be feelings of insecurity, abandonment, rejection…
Ways to say--
I am getting scared
Please say that more gently
That felt like an insult
I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now
I Need to Calm Down…
I just need this to be calmer right now
Can I take that back?
I need your support right now
Can we take a break?
Let me try again
I really messed up, I can see my part in this
I want to say this more gently but I don’t know how
I know that this isn’t your fault
Thank you for…
I love you
If you feel that you are in a relationship rut and are having the same arguments and issues, it may be that you have run into a communication and relationship pattern that may need some extra outside support. Often there are underlying feelings and experiences that cloud how partners react to each other and when you are caught in the pattern it is difficult to see a way out. If you would like more information about Couples Therapy, I would be happy to talk with you more 720-924-1155 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you love and happiness,