There’s good news and bad news about long-term relationships. The bad news first: Many problems in a relationship cannot be solved. Ever. Problems like traits your partner has that bug you. Or certain hard-core beliefs he has that conflict with yours. There are just some issues that are unsolvable, and every couple has them.
The good news? You can learn to live with them and have a pretty happy marriage in spite of conflict. All you have to do is you learn to manage the conflict. That’s easier said than done, of course, but there’s more good news. There are proven ways to help you be successful.
Rule 1. Remain calm. You’re going to have to talk about problems, so when you do, make sure you both start out calm and cool. Be careful not to use incendiary language. Address the issue in a respectful way and be as positive as possible. Watch your tone of voice. And remember, sarcasm might feel good but your partner won’t appreciate it.
Rule 2. Speak softly. That is, be the opposite of aggressive. Use a soft opening to the conversation, like, “What do you think about. . .?” Or, “Can I ask you a favor…?” Instead of “You put me down in front of the kids. You humiliated me!” try something like this: “I need to ask you something. I feel bad when you don’t support me, especially in front of the kids. Could you please think about that in the future?”
Rule 3. Take turns. When one person has the floor, the other must listen quietly without interruption. And really listen instead of planning your rebuttal while your partner speaks. You will have your turn, but be in the moment. Concentrate on what he’s saying and try to walk in his shoes. When he is finished, pause before you speak to gather your thoughts and to help you keep calm. If things get too heated, take a break. Try mindful breathing or brewing a cup of tea while your emotions return to normal.
Rule 4. Actively deescalate. Repeat key words and phrases your partner has used to make sure you are clear about what he is saying. Respond with sympathetic phrases like, “I feel your pain,” or “I hear you.” Rephrase what your partner said in your own words and ask if you understood him correctly. Use encouraging body language like nodding your head and making eye contact. And never underestimate the power of humor. It has diffused many an argument.
Rule 5. Offer a genuine apology. Note the word “genuine.” You can only do this when you feel you’ve been at fault in some way and take responsibility for your actions. Did you use a nasty tone? Were you mad at your boss, but you took it out on your partner? Reflect on your own actions and you will know in your heart if you need to apologize. If your partner is still not satisfied, ask what he needs from you so you can both move on in harmony.
Rule 6. Agree to disagree. Some things just can’t be fixed. Each partner has a viable point of view and never the twain shall meet. It’s time to accept and acknowledge your difference. Try to understand your partner’s position, and what’s at stake for him. Ask questions so you can fully explore the issue and perhaps find areas where you can overlap and agree. There may be places where you can make small compromises to facilitate your partner’s desire.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact.
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