Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. It can be healthy and bring you closer together or it can be destructive and push you apart. Often the only difference is in how you handle it.
Most of the time, arguments arise because one or both parties feels threatened. A perceived threat can be to our sense of security, our sense of self, or our relationship goals. Feeling threatened causes us to lash out, act out of spite, or shut down. All of these things can then lead to tension, hurt feelings, and conflict.
Here are four simple steps you can take to get to the heart of a problem you have with your partner, with quick tips to help you get each step right.
1) Say how you feel. Honor your own feelings no matter how crazy they may seem, while admitting they are just feelings no matter how justified they may seem. Don’t try to dictate their behavior or demand they change who they are. Admitting your true feelings requires you to be vulnerable. It can seem challenging but will get easier every time you do it, and will bring big rewards.
- Don’t just say, “I feel like…” and then state destructive accusations as in “I feel like you always ignore me and don’t care at all about our relationship.”
- Try something like, “I feel insecure and lonely when you spend a lot of time on your laptop when we’re at home together.”
2) Accept how they feel. Honor your partner’s feelings no matter how crazy they may seem. This step can also seem challenging at first but gets much easier in time. Acknowledge how they feel, let them know you did not mean to make them feel that way, and show them you still love and accept them.
- Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel that way, immediately talk about your own feelings, or claim that your feelings are stronger or more important.
- Focus on their perspective and say something like, “I understand how that would make you feel that way,” or “I’m sorry you felt that way.”
3) Express what you want. After you’ve both shared the feelings you don’t want to have, it’s time to talk about what you do want. This is your chance to reconnect on what you want for each other and for your relationship. Think about the commitment you have and what wonderful feelings you want to have together.
- Don’t demand any specific changes yet.
- Focus on your highest visions for a happy relationship with statements like, “I just want you to feel loved all the time,” or “I just want us to work together as a team.”
4) Take action. When you’ve established what you both really want for your relationship, often you don’t need to go any further as you will naturally feel inspired to make it happen. However, if you can identify a specific change that will help fulfill your relationship goals, then now is the time to commit to it. Visualize how you’re going to act differently when the time comes, how you can gently remind your partner if they don’t keep their end of the agreement, and how it will help you and your partner feel better.
- Don’t overcommit yourself or demand that your partner change something fundamental about themselves.
- Agree on specific, easily attainable, concrete actions you both will take.
These four steps should bring you from the misery of an emotional impasse to a higher place of trust, love, and passion. As always, if you don’t feel like you can handle these steps, or your partner is not participating, then you may need to seek outside help. However, following a simple formula can be just what you need to end arguments faster, grow closer, and prevent the same conflicts from repeating.