Look, I'll be the first to admit conflict is needed in healthy relationships. It serves us to have boundaries and differ from our sweetheart. It's critical we can say when something's not working, sit with that discomfort and come through it together.
But most of us have only experienced negative, unresolved and hurtful conflict. It's hard to imagine what healthy conflict looks like in loving relationships.
I've been focusing a large part of my work on shifting conflict and communication patterns in intimate relationships for ten years, and in that time I've rarely encountered anyone who feels confident in their conflict resolution skills.
So I decided to spend a little more time focusing this blog on conflict in couples, with the hope I can help more of you face conflict directly and lovingly so you reach a resolution and connection more easily.
I want to start by going over three critical global shifts you need to make to adjust the nature of conflicts in your relationships. Once you and your love have a hold on these you will start seeing conflict resolve more quickly and compassionately in a very short time.
Start Paying More Attention to Yourself Than Your Partner
The first issue most of us get caught in during conflict is a hyperfocus on what our partner is or isn't doing and the interpretations we're making about them. The first issue this brings up is it leaves us out of connection with ourselves. Often we can end up reacting to conflict from a pure state of emotion- without much grounded or rational thought.
It also centers our interpretations, instead of what we want. Interpretations are important, but they are often assumption-based and can be very unforgiving. Notice what happens when you're interpreting or assuming vs when you're focused on your own experience, reactions, and behavior.
Finally, focusing on them stops us from reflecting on our contributions to the problem. The only way to unlock a cycle of blame in a conflict is to move toward personal accountability. What can you do differently to move forward? Ask this of yourself next time, instead of focusing on what you'd like your partner to do.
Stop Making Things Worse
Lots of conflicts become piles of hurt quickly due to quick thoughtless reactions and mounting hopelessness. Let's look at how you can resolve things without adding more hurt to the mix.
Start by committing to intentionality and mindfulness during the conflict. Notice when you've stopped being mindful and find ways to re-focus or take a break in the conflict to soothe and then return to the conversation later for resolution. Don't just drop it or avoid it, but stay mindful of the outcome you'd like to see at the end of the conversation.
You can also begin rethinking your bigger story about conflict between you. Imagine what a healthy conflict might feel like. Picture, in detail a gentler, more loving resolution. And start practicing the emotional responses you're willing to contribute to moving in that direction.
The more you can visualize the negative consequences of giving in to your reactive (sometimes destructive) urges, and the positive consequences of interacting differently, the more easily you'll start changing the way you show up in the conflict pattern.
Even if your partner isn't willing to change their patterns, just by shifting your contribution to the conflict your conflicts will begin to take new shape. Stick with it.
Validation and Conflict Resolution
Couples who move more easily through conflict toward resolution more easily validate each other's perspective - even if they deeply disagree. Learning to validate is essential to changing conflict patterns.
So what if you disagree? Validating a viewpoint is not the same as agreeing.
If my partner wants to go out to brunch with friends, and I want to cancel to stay in bed and snuggle we can disagree while validating each other by saying "I know you really want to sleep in and we rarely get to do that anymore." and "We haven't been out to your favorite restaurant or seen those friends in a long time. I know it's your favorite Sunday activity."
Notice the lack of "but" in those sentences. We simply start by validating each other's viewpoint. Adding "...but I still want to go out/stay in." takes the power out of the original validation.
Of course this leaves us with more to discuss to resolve the issue, but it gets the conversation started in the right direction.
Sometimes it's easy to get hooked into evaluating your partner's perspective. One of you thinks the other's perspective is trivial or out of proportion with the situation. Or you'd never react in that same way.
No matter your judgment about it's validity or if you have the same perspective, accepting your partner's viewpoint is essential to move on. Evaluating, judging, or comparing it to another's experience/viewpoint will only stall or stop the conflict on route to resolution (and likely leave more hurt).
CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS
Are you inspired to change the way you communicate in conflicts? Three ways to change your relationship to conflict for good:
Lots of the information in this article draws from a great book on relationships. Its a super quick read and a really easy listen to audiobook. Get your copy of High Conflict Couple here (its' great even if you're not necessarily "high conflict").
Download my Fight Better Guide for Couples. Totally free. Get it in my Relationship Resource Library right here.
Call me for a free consult. Sometimes it helps to talk it through with a neutral third party to make changes that last. I'll happily share resources or support you as a coach. Let's talk.
Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.
Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease. She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow.