Conflict doesn’t mean that your relationship is in trouble – it means that you are two living, thinking beings with individual opinions. Both happy and unhappy couples disagree – how can any two people share a house, jobs, in-laws, pets or kids without an occasional spat? Everyone disagrees at some point – but when do you know that things are out of hand?
There’s a world of difference between constructive criticism and dirty fighting. With the right tools and mind set, conflict can actually become a path to deeper intimacy – the chance to be seen as you truly are, to accept your partner’s vulnerable and unique self, and to build a strong partnership.
Partnerships and couples need to have discussions, they need to solve problems, and sometimes they need to disagree, but they don’t need to squabble, argue, bicker, or fight. Fights are dramatic, which is not helpful to a discussion. If you have enough energy to create drama, you have more than enough to tone it down into a discussion. Here are a set of guidelines you may find helpful in arguing.
- Remember the point of the fight is to reach a solution, not to win, be right, or make your partner wrong.
- Don’t try to mind read. Ask instead what he or she is thinking.
- Don’t bring up all the prior problems that relate to this one. Leave the past in the past; keep this about one recent problem. Solve one thing at a time.
- Keep the process simple. State the problem, suggest some alternatives, and choose a solution together.
- Practice equality. If something is important enough to one of you, it will inevitably be important to both of you, so honor your partner’s need to solve a problem.
- Ask and Answer questions directly. Again, keep it as simple as possible. Let your partner know you hear him or her.
- State your problem as a request, not a demand. To make it a positive request, use “I messages” and “please”.
Next time you have an argument, practice some of these guidelines and you will be amazed at how the interaction will change.
Resolutions/Goals are also for those whose relationships are in trouble- if you are flying solo (or just feel like you are) here are some of my favorites for the New Year, courtesy of Michelle Weiner Davis.
- Envision positive outcomes – There is no way that you can begin to accomplish positive change your marriage if you don’t believe it is possible. Start by imagining what your life will be like when your marriage truly turns a corner. The more you can picture every detail, the easier it will be to eventually step into this picture at some later date.
- Act as if you expect miracles to occur – Once you can imagine positive outcomes, reflect on how you will be behaving differently when they happen. Then start doing that right now!
- Be kind, even if you think your spouse doesn’t deserve it – You may be angry, disappointed, or even devastated by your spouse’s choices and actions. However, rather than react to unsettling behavior, assume your spouse is lost and confused. Be patient, kind and steady and your efforts will pay off.
- Focus on small, positive changes – Don’t expect big changes overnight or you will be disappointed and it will make it hard to stay on track. Imagine the smallest change possible that would signal a shift in how things have been going. Then focus on that.
- Promise yourself this will be a great year, no matter what – You cannot control what your spouse does, but you can control what you decide to do with yourself and your children, if you have them. Take a deep breath and envision how you are going to make this a good year regardless of your spouse’s choices.
- If you get off track, get back on quickly without self-blame – What separates the winners from the losers is not whether or how many times you get off track, it’s how rapidly you get back on track. If you’ve veered from the plan, hop right back on track without self-recrimination.
The Price of Forgiveness
No one gets through life without being hurt by another person. We all have experienced the pain of a thoughtless remark, gossip, or lie. If you have experienced an unhappy marriage, the devastation of infidelity, or suffered physical or emotional abuse, you know what it feels like to be hurt. It is tempting to hold on to these feelings and build a wall of safety around yourself, but the best way to heal is to forgive the person who hurt you.
But what is forgiveness, really? When you forgive another person, you no longer allow their behavior to cause you anger, pain, bitterness, or resentment. When you choose not to forgive, you make the choice to hold on to your feelings of resentment, anger, and pain.
Think of forgiveness as a gift that you give to yourself. It is not something you do for the person who hurt you. It is a gift to yourself because it enables you to stop feeling painful feelings and pushing others away. Forgiveness frees you from anger and allows you to restore your ability to have close and satisfying relationships with others.
Anger is a poisonous emotion that comes from being hurt. When you are consumed with anger and bitterness, it hurts you at least as much as it hurts the person who has harmed you. It is as if you are filled with poison. If these feelings are not resolved, they can begin to eat you up inside. You have two choices: to stay connected to the person who hurt you by keeping these poisonous feelings alive, or to let the feelings go and forgive the person who harmed you. When you withhold forgiveness, think about who is actually being hurt. It is more than likely that the person who is filled with anger and anxiety is you, not the other person.
Forgiving another does not mean you will never again feel the pain or remember the thing that hurt you. The hurtful experience will be in your memory forever. By forgiving, you are not pretending the hurtful behavior never happened. It did happen. The important thing is to learn from it while letting go of the painful feelings.
Forgiveness is not about right or wrong. It doesn’t mean that the person’s behavior was okay. You are not excusing their behavior or giving permission for the behavior to be repeated or continued.
Forgiveness can only take place because we have the ability to make choices. This ability is a gift that we can use it whenever we wish. We have the choice to forgive or not to forgive. No other person can force us to do either.