It might be surprising to know that research suggests that it is not how much you fight that predicts happiness and success in your relationship, but rather it is how you fight that really matters. Indeed, not all fights are created equal. There is conflict that can generate disconnection and destroy good will between you and your partner, but there is also the kind of conflict that moves you closer together and further along in the development of your relationship. As you and your partner progress in your shared life together, you will inevitably disagree and butt heads, so what can you do to engage in healthy couple conflict? Below are 10 tips for helping you and your partner fight well.
- 1. Engage in the soft start up. It does not bode well for your conflict when you begin it by yelling, criticizing, or being passive aggressive. Instead, if you have a gripe to express, begin softly. Say, “There is something on my mind that is really bothering me, and I wanted to see if we could talk about it.” Try it out and see how much more smoothly your conversation goes.
- 2. Ask permission to talk. Think about how much more successful your conversations with your partner would be if you simply asked, “Is now a good time to talk?” or “Can I talk to you for a few minutes?” If now isn’t a good time, ask when will be and talk then.
- 3. Take turns. We all know that interrupting and talking over one another is not helpful, so be mindful of when you talk and when you listen. Only one of you may have the floor at a time.
- 4. Take the ABC approach. Try communicating with the following template: A) “I feel…”, B) “… when you…”, C) “… because I…” This helps to avoid blaming (“You always forget to call me!”) and, subsequently, avoid triggering your partner’s defensiveness. Be descriptive, not judgmental or critical.
- 5. Validate each other’s subjective realities. We all experience the world through our own unique lens, so when your partner reveals some of how they see the world (or experience you!), be sure to validate that. You may see things differently, but you will not get anywhere trying to argue whose version of reality is more accurate.
- 6. Take ownership. We all get stressed, feel overwhelmed, or just need some space and say the wrong thing or make mistakes as a result. Even though you may not have meant to be hurtful to your partner, you certainly can go back and take responsibility for your actions.
- 7. Apologize. Saying, “I’m sorry” can go a long way. If you need to say it, just say it!
- 8. Take a break. There is nothing wrong with noticing that the conversation is going badly and asking to take a few minutes to cool off and start again. In fact, this may be a key ingredient to you and your partner having a healthy, rather than destructive, conflict. Just be sure to make an agreement about how long the break will last, and then stick to that plan. Come back, and finish the conversation.
- 9. Remember the positives. Try to recall within your mind a moment when you felt loved and cared for by your partner. Perhaps it is the way he holds you after a long day at work or when she smiles at you across the dinner table. Doing this can remind you that this person you are getting upset with is, in fact, the person you love.
- 10. Move on. After you have found a way to understand each other’s perspective, take responsibility for your part of the problem, and apologize, find a way to move beyond the incident. Share a hug, hold hands, or use a little humor to help you to move on from the conflict, knowing that you actually just became closer partners as a result.
Contributed by Staff Therapist, Rachel Goldsmith