Does this scenario sound familiar in your relationship–you and your partner are having a great time spending quality time together on a rare kid-free day. You begin talking about how the kids are doing in school and suddenly you begin disagreeing about how to handle a situation that arose with a teacher. The disagreement escalates, and before you know it, there are raised voices, angry words and a perfectly good day feels ruined. Do you feel that you and your partner are stuck in this pattern of constant arguing and bickering-even over things that feel minor?
Contrary to what may be popular belief, arguing is not a bad thing. Actually, as a couples counselor, it raises a red flag to me when a couple will tell me “We never fight.” That may let me know that the couple is avoiding discussing any conflict or differences due to fear of those discussions escalating into fights. Conflict is a natural part of every relationship. When you have two people with different backgrounds, perspectives and personalities trying to navigate through the many hurdles of a relationship, of course there will be conflict along the way. And these conflicts will likely lead to arguments at times. So, the arguing itself is not the problem; but the WAY you argue and manage your conflict may be!
If you find your relationship is plagued with constant bickering, here are some tips that may help in managing the conflict.
- Share opinions respectfully-You likely will disagree on a lot of subjects and that is okay. Share your “side” in a way that doesn’t indicate blame or attack. Use “I” statements to focus on your thoughts and feelings on the subject. It may seem like a minor difference but beginning with the word “you” will automatically feel like attack towards your partner. Think of the difference in the way this sentence would be heard and perceived: “You are so lazy. Why can’t you load the dishwasher correctly!” VS. “I would find it helpful if the silverware was loaded facing out so they don’t need to be rewashed.”
- Stay focused on the present subject-How often do you and your partner start out arguing about one subject, and suddenly you are each bringing up grievances from long ago? It is common to want to use what we perceive as past mistakes for “evidence”, and suddenly we are arguing about something that happened years ago. The problem with this is people cannot effectively resolve several issues in one discussion. Limit your talk to just one occurrence or item.
- Don’t try to WIN- In other words, allow for the possibility that you may still disagree. Instead, the goal should be increased understanding of your partner and and vise versa. Not every problem is solvable and that is okay! While there may be some conflicts that require an ultimate resolution, many of our day to day conflicts will never be resolved. Instead of arguing to “win”, work to give your opinions and feelings in as calm and neutral manner as you can. When listening, be curious about your partner’s opinions and feelings. This skill sets the two of you up as not adversaries, but allies working to find a commonality. This skill, employed consistently, increases the likelihood of coming to a solution you both feel okay about.
- Acceptance-In the end, accepting that our partner is a different person than us is crucial to managing any conflict. The two of you grew up in different families with different rules of engagement and maybe different values. At its most mature level, love is accepting another human, as is – faults and all.
Managing conflict can be one of the toughest challenges in a relationship, but learning these skills can allow you to do so in an effective way that helps bring you even closer to your partner! For more information or help with these skills, please contact us at GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com or at 908-246-3074.