6 Ways to Embrace Conflict and Keep Your Relationship Strong cover

6 Ways to Embrace Conflict and Keep Your Relationship Strong

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Conflict is a signal the couple still cares. Partners that are still open to sharing their viewpoints are better off than those that don't.





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6 Ways to Embrace Conflict and Keep Your Relationship Strong

Conflict

As a couples counselor, few things worry me more than a couple whose hot conflict has cooled to a long and icy silent treatment.

Barring any kind of violence, this is one of the four signals the relationship is coming to an end (Gottman, 1994).

A lot of couples are surprised to learn this, because they somehow believe that unspoken resentment is better than conflict.

While neither is ideal, if I had to choose one, I would choose a (respectful yet) hot conflict over icy cold resentment any day.

Why?

Conflict is a signal the couple still cares. Partners are still open to sharing their viewpoints.

They are still engaged and trying, albeit in less-than-effective ways. They haven’t shut each other out entirely. We can work with that!

A couple in cold-shoulder territory may have more work to do to reengage emotionally in the relationship.

It’s likely they have made some negative, internal resolutions about each other and about the relationship that will need to be overcome.

It’s a bit more of an uphill battle if one of the parties clings tightly to those beliefs.

Two to Heal

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Two to Heal

However, when both partners are engaged in the process of healing, there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the relationship’s future.

A Therapist for Relationships

The reality is that even the most compatible couples can experience ongoing conflict.

In fact, research shows that more than two-thirds of the problems in a relationship will be enduring ones (Gottman, 1994).

That’s right: two-thirds of relationship issues will never be fully resolved, even in happy, stable relationships.

So how do happy couples deal with inevitable conflict? They make an active effort to stay emotionally connected while they manage it.

Confrontation

Relationship research suggests that couples who keep trying, collaborate, and discuss their conflicts fare better than those who avoid conflict, “turn away” from their partner (as John Gottman calls it), and turn to the silent treatment.

Forgetting (or choosing not) to turn toward a partner for that emotional connection might tempt either or both partners to turn outwardly—to other people, activities, or even substances to fill that emotional void.

This is a wide-open space for infidelity or self-defeating behaviors to emerge that only further harm the relationship.

Partners who employ silent treatment tactics are skipping opportunities for emotional connectedness.

Hunger

Emotional connection can often be the glue that holds a relationship together.

Think of the urge for emotional connection this way: it’s like feeling hunger pangs, but instead of doing the work to prepare a meal, you decide to skip it altogether.

Like hunger, you can probably ignore your emotional needs for a short time before you start sensing cues that something is missing.

That missing connection will continue to beckon until you act on it. Eventually, the urge will become irresistible.

Infidelity

Forgetting (or choosing not) to turn toward a partner for that emotional connection might tempt either or both partners to turn outwardly—to other people, activities, or even substances to fill that emotional void.

This is a wide-open space for infidelity or self-defeating behaviors to emerge that only further harm the relationship.

So instead of avoiding the next conflict, embrace it. Resist the urge to see conflict as a sign the relationship is “bad” or “doomed.” Instead, realize conflict is a normal part of being in a relationship.

Think of conflict as a sign the two of you have decided your relationship is more important than your differences.

How To Embrace Conflict

Consider ways to turn problems into shared dilemmas the two of you can tackle together.

Hold a curious and nonjudgmental posture toward each other that enables you to share ideas openly.

Envision yourselves as a team, working together on a shared goal.

Resist the urge to blame, criticize, disrespect each other, or feel defensive.

Remember that the problem may never fully go away, but working together on it can lessen its impact, and staying “on the same team” in approaching it may even make you feel closer than ever.

Final Thoughts

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Final Thoughts

Accept that solid marriages require ongoing maintenance. It’s not always easy, but if the relationship matters to you, it will be worth it.

GoodTherapy.org