Conflict is an inevitable part of every relationship.
The key to maintaining a healthy relationship is to manage conflicts when they arise in a way that leads to deeper understanding, which can set the foundation for an effective and workable compromise.
These six conflict management skills from the work of Dr. John Gottman (The Gottman Institute) can help you and your partner appropriately manage conflict.
1. Soften Startup
The first three minutes of an argument are critical. This is because the way an argument begins dictates the way it ends.
When conflict arises, it can be difficult to remain calm. But remaining calm can greatly improve your ability to get your point across in a way that your partner can hear it without defensiveness. A good way to avoid the ‘blame game’ is to use “I” instead of “you” statements.
For example, if your partner continually forgets to do their chores while you remain on top of yours, it can be frustrating. You may feel like approaching your partner with: “You NEVER bring the trash out on trash day. Now we have to wait another week and you’ll probably forget then too….”
Instead, try broaching the subject as “I thought we agreed that the trash would be taken out every week by 7 AM. I’m frustrated because this is the second time we’ve missed the trash truck.”
Your partner is much more likely to respond well when you focus on your own feelings and needs rather than what they did or didn’t do.
2. Accept Influence
Accepting influence means showing your partner that you understand their perspective and that you agree with at least some of what they’re saying. Instead of shutting them down or rolling your eyes, try listening to what they have to say and accept that part of it is in fact true for them.
Without accepting influence, conflict cannot easily be resolved and the issue may continue to build or resurface. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings, emotions, and concerns. When you invite these into a conversation, it can become much more open, honest, and productive.
3. Make Effective Repairs During Conflict
A critical part of effective conflict management is being able to interrupt a negative cycle and get back on a positive track. This can include both verbal (e.g. apologizing for your part of the argument) and non-verbal (e.g. a soft, loving touch) actions designed to reconnect with your partner.
A big step in de-escalating includes accepting responsibility. For instance, if you’re on the reciprocating end of the chores argument, you could acknowledge that you, in fact, are in the wrong.
Part of of conflict management through de-escalation is also asking for forgiveness, saying that you can work it out (whatever the conflict is) and prove that you will move past this.
A major cornerstone of any relationship is trust. Upholding these promises will show your partner that that you are trustworthy and will help prevent escalation of future conflicts.
5. Sooth Yourself and Your Partner
Faster heartbeat, quickened breathing, and raised voices are some of the signs of stress. You’re incredibly likely to experience stress when you’re caught up in the heat of an argument. This can set off a fight or flight response making it more difficult to listen and process information.
For this reason, it’s important that you take the time to focus on soothing both yourself and your partner. Press the pause button and take time to collect yourselves before continuing. This will lead to a better end result.
Compromise is the final step in conflict management. Conflict and arguments are inevitable – everybody has conflict in their relationship but not everybody can overcome it. Compromise can help prevent arguments from building and will save your relationship in the long run.