Conflict within relationships is inevitable; however rather than avoid it, we should seek to manage it so that it doesn’t become destructive.
One really helpful method of conflict management that I teach the couples I work with is to change the way they start a discussion with each other. This is vital because we can predict how a discussion will go (and what might ultimately happen to the relationship) from the first three minutes of the conversation.
As an example, consider these two ways of starting a conversation with your partner:
1. It’s Saturday, we have people coming tonight, and just look at this mess. Here I go again, picking up after you, why don’t you ever help?
2. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the state of the house and we have friends coming tonight. Can we please make some time to clean up the place together? I really appreciate how fast the work goes when we do it as a team.
The second conversation opener is more likely to elicit help from the partner, and its softer tone is less likely to start a fight or cause the other person to feel defensive. To break down the technique, try this formula:
1. Start your statement with “I feel …”
Saying ‘I’ instead of ‘You’ stops the other person immediately feeling criticized. You then name your feeling, such as upset, stressed, worried, sad, etc
2. About What
Describe the situation with facts and not accusations. Describe ‘it’ and not your partner or his/her behaviour
3. I Need
Tell your partner what you need to make things easier
4. Be polite and avoid blaming, keep your voice soft
5. Give some appreciation – recall when your partner did it right in the past and let them know how much you value that.
Remember, behind our harder emotions that we are sometimes tempted to show our partner first, such as anger or frustration, there are often softer feelings and vulnerabilities which are easier for them to hear and do something about. So, saying “it makes me feel lonely when we go to a party and we spend the evening in different parts of the room”, is different to saying “It makes me furious when we go to a party and you ignore me all night.”
Start entering your conversations with loved ones more gently and see how the results change. If you are struggling with your relationship, then couple therapy is a positive way to begin to repair and make positive changes.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.