Fresh Start in Relationships – Part III
Conflicts are part of every relationship. I know, there are some people who claim to be friends for a long time and never had a fight. There are couples who have been married many years and claim to have never been short with each other. Usually, the people in those relationships are not completely honest with each other. They chose to deny or avoid the conflict because they hate fighting. So, the conflicts often go unaddressed or unresolved for years. The danger in this approach to managing conflict is that resentment can build to bitterness. Emotional distancing occurs without any hope of repairing it because no one wants to address the conflict.
For the rest of us, conflict is a reality in the relationship. Some manage conflict well while some do not. The Gottman Institute has studied what makes marriage work well. Managing conflict is one of the key skills. In couples that manage conflict well, constructive conflict management begins with the development of six skills: Softened Startup, Accept Influence, Make Effective Repairs During Conflict, De-escalate, Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner, and Compromise.
No one learns these skills overnight. It takes practice, and sometimes you need to build up to having effective communication in your partnership. Here are the small steps it takes to master conflict management.
Soften the start of your conversation
How a partner raises an issue in the first three minutes of the conversation is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. If most of your arguments start softly, your relationship is far more likely to be stable and happy. Keep your volume soft. Use the terms of endearment: “honey,” “dear,” “sweetie.” This tells your spouse that he or she is more important than the issue – but you still want to talk about the issue.
Complain but don’t blame
No matter how “at fault” you think your partner is, approaching him or her with criticisms and accusations is not productive. It’s all about approach. Instead of blaming your partner with “You said you would clean the backyard today and it’s still a mess,” try a simple complaint: “Hey, there are still some fallen leaves in the gutter and tennis balls everywhere. We agreed you’d rake and clean up after Buster. I’m really upset about this.”
Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You”
When you start sentences with “I,” you are less likely to seem critical, immediately putting your partner into a defensive position. Instead of saying “You are not listening to me,” you can say, “I don’t feel like heard right now.” Instead of “You’re so careless with money,” say, “I think that we should try to save more.”Focus on how you’re feeling, not on accusing your partner. Both of you will likely feel that you are hearing and understanding each other more.
Describe what is happening, but don’t judge
Instead of accusing or blaming, simply describe what you see in the situation. Though you may be at the end of your rope, keeping yourself in check will be worth it in the end. Instead of “You never watch our kids,” try saying, “I’m really exhausted. Could you help out with the kids?” Your spouse is more likely to consider your point of view and deliver the results you are hoping for with this approach. Be clear. No matter how long you’ve been together, you cannot expect them to read your mind.
Be polite and appreciative
Just because you are in conflict with your partner does not mean that your respect and affection for them diminished. If they see you using respect with others while you are out in the community but then receive disrespect from you, what message does that send? Adding phrases such as “please” and “I appreciate it when you…” can be helpful in maintaining warmth and emotional connection even during a difficult conversation.
Don’t store things up
When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, one issue leads to another, and you can suddenly find yourself bringing up a laundry list of issues that feel related, but really are not to your partner. The solution is: don’t wait to bring up an issue with your partner. Your conflict discussions will be far more productive when you don’t allow the situation to escalate.
For more information on this, check out the Gottman Institute website: www.gottmaninstitute.com
This reflects what God himself teaches us about marriage and relationships as followers of Christ. Through the Apostle Paul, God speaks clearest to husbands: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19, NIV) This is the groundwork. It is necessary work when we love someone else with different ideas, perspectives and characteristics than we have. We do this out of love and respect, as Paul wrote in Ephesians, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, NIV)”
See you next time, here at the corner of faith and mental health.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Chad Wright