Conflicts arise in every relationship, and most of us have walked away from an argument with a partner wishing it had gone better. Maybe you said something you didn’t mean or you completely shut down and didn’t express your feelings at all. Happy couples aren’t necessarily the ones who never disagree, but rather the ones who resolve issues in a fair and healthy way. The good news is, by learning a few simple conflict resolution skills, you too can enjoy a happier, healthier relationship.
- Pick the right time to talk. Difficult discussions can have completely different outcomes if someone is tired, hungry, stressed, or busy with another task. If it’s an important or potentially emotional conversation, set aside a time when you can both devote your full attention to it. If you start a discussion that turns heated and you need a break, let your partner know you need some time to think it over. Try to give them an accurate timeline (i.e. “Let’s take a break and talk about it more after work tomorrow.”) so they know what to expect. Allow them to take breaks as well.
- Use respectful language. Disagreements occur in virtually every relationship, but how a couple fights is what makes it a healthy or unhealthy relationship. When arguing, don’t insult, name call, or use offensive language with your partner. None of these things bring you any closer to a true solution, they only serve to further escalate the fight and drive a deeper wedge between you two.
- Try to focus on finding the best solution for the situation, rather than placing all the emphasis on who is “right” or “wrong.” Both parties are inclined to believe they’re right, so try to take a step back from the situation to view it more objectively. This will also help you understand where the other person is coming from and why they may feel the way they do.
- Don’t bring the past into the present. When healthy couples fight they find a resolution, take responsibility, forgive, and move forward. Refrain from bringing up past issues that you have resolved together if they aren’t relevant to the conversation. If you two had decided to put a certain issue behind you, don’t use it as ammo during a fight.
- Stick to one issue at a time. If you’re fighting about a problem that is repeatedly happening, it’s okay to acknowledge this pattern. For instance, if you’ve asked your spouse to call you when they’ll be home late, you can say, “I’ve noticed that the past several times you’ve had to work late, you haven’t called and I feel frustrated by that since we had talked about it.” But don’t add, “And you also haven’t taken out the garbage this week and you never fill up the gas tank in the car.” Running through a laundry list of your partner’s shortcomings may cause them to feel like a failure, become defensive, or shut down completely.
- Stay connected. Make space for empathy and gratitude, even when your partner is getting on your last nerve. If you notice that your partner has made the change you’ve asked of them (like calling if they will be home late, in the example above), say thank you. After all, the process of improving communication isn’t one that happens overnight but something that will develop in small increments throughout your time together. The best way to master it is to practice.