Matt and Anna discuss the ways to effectively approach disagreements and conflicts in relationships. As well as the do’s and don’ts of how to respond.
- Think about what you want to say ahead of addressing the issue and decide what the goal of the discussion is. You are far more likely to have a successful resolution of the issue if you determine what needs have to be met ahead of time. Keep in mind, however, that you may not see the full picture until after you have begun discussing so this does not mean you can’t compromise depending on the issue.
- Focus on the issue at hand. It is not a great strategy to dump out multiple issues at once. It detracts from the focus and reduces the chance of a resolution of any issues as well as increases the likelihood the other person will feel attacked and criticized for who they are as opposed to something they have done.
- Listen when the other person is speaking. Try to hear them fully out without interjecting
- Try to always see from your partner’s perspective. Even if you don’t understand their point fully, you can probably understand their base feelings.
- Do not think of this as a win or lose scenario. If you both can come to an understanding and a resolution you both agree with, then it is a win.
- Don’t accuse and use “I” messages. For example, when you use the phrase “I feel”, there can be no arguing that you are incorrect about your feelings. Talking about how something makes you feel also requires no assumptions since you are only speaking your truth. Even if you misunderstand a scenario that has led to these feelings as a reaction, you are not misunderstanding your feelings.
- Focus on finding a mutually agreeable solution. Focusing on getting someone to “cave in” to you can make them feel like they have no say and it is all about you and not them. Even if they agree, there is a high likelihood of resentment building underneath from it.
- If it is getting heated, take a pause and come back later. It may be good to address exactly how you are feeling in that moment and mention you want to take a break from the discussion. Then pick a time to come back to it in the near future.
- Pick and choose your battles. Remember everyone will have things about them that annoy or bother you. Try to think about what it is ahead of time and determine how important this issue truly is. Ask yourself why it is so important to you as well.
- Never underestimate the power of humor when addressing less serious issues. Sometimes addressing a problem in a lighthearted manner communicates that something is bothering you but will let the other know that it is coming from a place of less seriousness and will put them much less on the defensive.
When someone is bringing up an issue with you
- Listen and hear them out. Try to fully understand what it is they are trying to tell you before placing your own judgements and interpretations on it.
- Be patient as they try to work out everything they want to say. Try to empathize with them. Remember, even if you do not agree with some of the conclusions they are coming to, their feelings are real.
- Avoid getting defensive. Even if they are not handling the discussion on their end very well you can still control how you react. After a resolution has been reached you can then bring up to them your issues with the way they handled the conflict and explain what would be more effective for you going forward.
- Try to understand the why of how they feel the way they do. Sometimes your partner may be communicating a specific incident or action that has upset them, but the core of it is how it made them feel which if often tied to something deeper. For example, if they are upset that you don’t let them know when you get home at night, the underlying issue might be that they are worried and not being put at ease by knowing you’re okay or they may feel like they don’t hold much priority in your life.
- Remember to take ownership of where you may have gone wrong or been inconsiderate, even if it is in the way you handled the conflict. It shows that you are willing to understand and work with your partner and it is not a weakness to be able to admit your own shortcomings.
What not to do when addressing conflict (For both)
- Accuse or make assumptions directly to them. You can speak in feelings however and using the “I” language.
- Get defensive. Remember you are always 100% in control of how you handle yourself, no matter how the other one is handling it on their end.
- Let your anger take over. Not only does this keep you from thinking clearly and more likely to attack the other, but may lead you to escalate the argument to a dangerous level. This especially applies to physical violence and actions such as throwing things, yelling, and especially physically hurting the other.
- Generalize. Saying things like “You always… “ or “You never..” Not only is it probably incorrect but can increases the likelihood the other will resort to defensiveness, In fact, it helps if you can think of a time when they did the opposite to help you keep more on track as well as giving them an example of when they did something right and how it made you feel instead.
- Avoid conflict altogether. You can take a little time to compose yourself and decide how you want to address the issue and the goal of the discussion, but hoping issues will go away almost never works. It can also lead to a constant feeling of things not being resolved. The longer you sit on an issue and let it build up, the more likely you are to eventually blow up and let all the emotions come flooding out as well causing the other to feel attacked.
- Make someone feel guilty for their feelings. Remember, regardless of any misunderstandings that led to the issue, how they feel is very real to them. Keep that in mind as you work through the issue and don’t make them feel ashamed for their feelings. This will also lead to them being less likely to open up to you down the road until the inevitable blow up.
- Go to extremes to try and win. For example, taking actions that seem like conceding but are actually done to make them feel bad. As an example, if your partner brings up that you are spending too much time going out with friends and they feel neglected, don’t react by making a big show of telling her you won’t ever go out with your friends again and calling the friends to tell them in a way that makes your partner seem like the wrong one. It is actually a form of manipulation when you do this.
- Try to win. Remember that even if you “win” an argument, you lose. It is about creating a win-win situation where both are happy. Also keep in mind that in trying to win, you are far more likely to trigger a backfire effect with no compromise.
- Try to talk when the time is not conducive to a productive discussion. You can even schedule a time ahead of time. As your partner is rushing out the door to work, they will feel added pressure and tension if you decide to start discussing the issues then.
After the conflict
- Think about the lessons and gains from the discussion. Both in the things you have learned about your partner as well as in how to communicate with them in general.
- Create an action plan based on the compromise so that you can ensure the resolution to this issue can be effectively put in place and not occur again.
- Move on from the conflict. If it has been resolved, let it stay resolved. Constantly bringing it back up will make the other feel like discussions are pointless and less likely to trust you on discussions going forward and more likely to immediately go on the defensive.