Conflict, in any relationship, between 2 different people who share the same space is pretty much inevitable. Listening to my teenage daughters this morning “negotiate” the use of the shared electric toothbrush base as they both had minutes to get out the door for their ride to school, I could hear the frustration levels rise as they tried to come to an arrangement that worked for both of them. These are the little things that couples are negotiating daily.
The issue is not whether these little things (or the big things for that matter like kids, sex, chores or in-laws etc…) cause conflict or not – it is whether they can be resolved without hurting each other or the relationship.
Most people when asked would say they don’t like conflict and in fact what conflict does, particularly in our intimate relationships is take us to a place that can feel very unsafe. Because no one really likes feeling unsafe we develop ways of avoiding conflict. Just some of these ways include:
The classic conflict avoider – gives in to the other just to keep the peace. Being in a relationship with a conflict avoider makes you feel like you are on easy street – things seem to go your way a lot. But what is actually happening is the conflict avoider is often denying their own needs in the situation and resentment can build. Eventually resentment needs an escape route – perhaps an occasional explosion of anger or passive aggressive behaviour.
If you both hate conflict, issues don’t get discussed they just get swept under the carpet until the pile is so huge you can’t get anywhere without tripping over it…
Other couples create rigid rules to ensure fairness that may not meet anyone’s needs.
And at the other extreme some couples fight without resolving anything and they can turn into stand offs that can go on for days and even weeks, breaking connection and making life miserable.
If you recognise any of this in your relationship the good news is you can learn how to do it differently. Some of these strategies include:
· Soft start ups – making the way issues are brought up nice and gentle so you both feel safe.
· Talking to each other in a way that allows you to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and not trying to solve the problem until you really understand the other person’s point of view.
· Coming up with a compromise or even a longer term solution that supports both person’s needs.
· And when it all goes wrong being able to repair the situation so that the issue is truly dealt with once and for all and doesn’t keep coming up.
Whilst reading blogs and books are a great way to learn what to do, nothing beats actually being taught and getting to practice. My latest mini-courses Conquering Conflict will do just that...
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