We all have conflicts. It’s impossible to see eye-to-eye in every conversation and hold the same perspective with everyone we communicate with. So how do we manage conflicts, minimize frustration, and have constructive arguments rather than destructive ones? We learn how to manage conflicts in a healthy, productive way. Based on John Gottman’s research, here are six great ways to keep your conflicts on the right track, in order to maintain and even grow your relationships. If these seem impossible for you, reach out to a HWP therapist. These are skills that can be taught, rehearsed, and implemented with the help of a trained professional.
A Gentle Start-Up
The best way to predict how a conversation will go is to look at how the first three minutes begin. Conversations tend to end how they begin. If they start with blame, anger, or criticism, that is the way it will probably end. The gentle start-up is a skill that minimizes defenses and reactions. Using the word “I” rather than “you,” along with stating how you feel and what you need are extremely important to maintain during a conflict, rather than focusing on what you want your partner to do or not do. For instance, saying “you never clean up after yourself” is a harsh way to start up a conversation and will probably escalate to defensiveness and anger. For a more gentle approach, you might say “I know you’ve been busy, but it would mean a lot to me if you could remember to clean up after yourself.”
This is a skill that is as easy as saying, “you have a good point” or “I never thought of it like that.” This skill acknowledges that you hear your partner and understand where they are coming from. It shows respect and support so that you too, have a shot at being heard and your own point of view being validated. Making someone feel like their opinion matters to you is a way to show you care, even in the throes of conflict.
The best way to de-escalate a conflict is to come prepared with a plan. Be organized in what you wish to say and how you wish to act. Decide ahead of time how you will remain calm, how you will stay aware of your tone and body language, and how you can come across as unthreatening so that defenses don’t flare up. Another great way to combat escalation during conflict is to remain connected, instill hope, acknowledge feelings, and actively listen to the other person.
As you and your partner set out to find a middle ground or solution to the issue at hand, each of you should consider what you are willing or not willing to bend on. Usually, the things you don’t want to bend on relate back to your overall values as a person. Respectfully communicate these as you guide your way together to an agreed compromise. Using Gottman’s Art of Compromise exercise is a great tool for navigating this skill.
Knowing how to calm down is an essential skill we should all learn. We should also learn how to help our partners calm down. The first step in learning how to soothe yourself or someone else is recognizing when you or they are flooded, overwhelmed, or need a break. Then, learn to pause the conversation or conflict so that one or both of you can relax and go back to a more calm state. It’s also helpful if you do pause or take a break from the conflict, to let the person know when they can expect you to circle back with them to conclude the conversation.
It’s important, as you are in the midst of conflict and especially afterward, to attempt to restore your relationship. Remembering that there is more to this relationship than the conflict itself is often very helpful. See the bigger picture, self-soothe, apologize or let them know what you appreciate about them, even though you may be angry. If your partner attempts to repair, accept their repair attempt and move past the conflict together.
What Comes Next?
You’ve read the blogs, tips, and posts with catchy ideas. You’re taking the steps and making progress, but you crave more. You want answers about why habits have formed in your life and how you can take steps to ensure they don’t take hold again.
Kristi Schwegman is a psychotherapist specializing in helping couples develop healthy relationships, whether dating, engaged, or married. She also draws from her Christian-based approach to lead individuals in becoming aware of the limiting beliefs that can get them stuck.
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