All couples have conflict. Disagreement is an inevitable aspect of being in a close relationship. Some arguments become toxic. Discord can become chronic. When that happens, your relationship is in trouble.
Have you felt like you are having the same argument over and over again? This is is a sign that you would benefit from learning to improve the way you and your partner approach conflict.
Does it feel like your fights go beyond the issue at hand? Are there times when you or your partner will try to push each other’s buttons? If your relationship includes degrading and hurtful language, it is time to change the way you and your partner approach conflict.
Taking your opponents side
A powerful way to overcome hurtful conflict is to be empathetic. What is it about the situation you and your partner are facing that is creating the hostility in your partner? Do they feel afraid? Do they feel insecure? Do they feel threatened in some way? If you can identify what is hurting them and try to validate their feelings and reassure them, you will find a major change in your partner’s demeanor. Ask yourself: “Who am I being that is causing my partner to feel this way? Is there any way I can change my speech or demeanor that would help them feel heard and understood?”
Easier Said than Done
Being empathetic is not a difficult concept to grasp. When others feel like we care about their feelings (even if we don’t agree), they feel cared for and aren’t as likely to fight. This is much more difficult to enact when you are in a conflict. Here are some suggestions for how you might put this into practice:
- Anticipate what your partner will say and do — try to anticipate what your partner’s concerns are ahead of time. Try to anticipate what some of their behaviors will be ahead of time (especially speech or actions that may push your buttons)
- Anticipate what you will say and do — How have you responded to negative conflict in the past? Make a commitment to not repeat negative behaviors, such as name calling
- Learn to soothe yourself — teach yourself how to calm down when you are upset. Principles such as proper breathing and healthy thinking can make a major difference when you are having interpersonal conflict.
- Journal — write down some of your concerns about your relationship and how you might respond. This will help you prepare.
Being empathetic and gracious towards your partner, even when he or she is upset will change the way you as a couple address conflict. Every couple will have disagreement, but empathy can go a long way towards preventing the discord from becoming toxic. If you continue to have conflict with your partner, consider marital counseling.
About the author: Dr. Spriggs is a psychologist and the owner of Piedmont Counseling Center. Although he sees people for a variety of reasons, couples counseling is the focus of Dr. Spriggs work. You can read more about Dr. Spriggs by following this link: Dr. Spriggs.