Conflict Management for Couples
It is an amazing fact that ongoing avoidance of conflict in a relationship is the #1 predictor of divorce among married couples. Also, new research indicates that women who avoid marital fights have an increased risk of serious [and life threatening] medical problems. So the message for couples is:
DO engage in conflict with your partner.
Every conflict successfully dealt with provides an opportunity for more intimacy and understanding; every conflict that is side-stepped leads to more distance and lack of communication. However, the key is HOW you deal with the conflict. Destructive conflict is, of course, not healthy but constructive conflict is one of the best things for couple growth and cohesiveness.
Here are a few do’s and don’t’s for constructive conflict management:
1. Use respectful communication with your partner at all times during the conflict [if you know any communication tools, this is the time to use them]. If you are going to ‘lose it’ ask for a time-out and use relaxation tools to “re-group” before re-engaging..If you cannot re-enter the discussion in a calm way then ask to postpone the conflict until a later time or in a therapist’s office if you need some help facilitating the conversation.
2. Stay focused on the topic and resist the temptation to bring up other issues or to bring up past grievances.
3. Don’t make generalizations such as ‘never’ and ‘always’
4. Never interrupt
5. Don’t use derogatory names, or use inflammatory language or insults
6. Don’t label your partner’s behavior [eg lazy, mean, inconsiderate, etc] Instead tell your partner how you feel when certain things happen.
7. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements
8. Listen attentively to your partner’s feelings and try not to respond defensively
9. Don’t make assumptions
10. Do not leave the discussion without letting your partner know that you need a time-out and will be available to resume the conversation in the near future.
The above skills will reveal underlying important feelings and issues that will allow for a successful resolution of the conflict using problem solving skills such as compromise, negotiation, etc. If this does not naturally occur then the conflict has not been managed successfully and you may want to consult a couples counselor for some more in-depth help.