Should Couples Learn To Embrace Conflict?
By Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC
Conflict is normal in relationships, and embracing can even be healthy. Don't fear it, embrace it! Differences simply mean that there are other viewpoints that we can learn from, and that each of us has room to grown. Learning to accept each other's differences, and strong convictions, can be a powerful tool that brings you closer together as a couple. Also, learning to work with and embrace conflict can teach a couple to "fight fair." This means that the disagreement is about the issue, and does not side track to attacking the individual. Fair fighting stays on topic, and does not resort to attacking your partner's character as a means of winning the fight.
If we stay on topic, and stick with the issue, we avoid adding hurt feelings and the issue becoming about what you said about the other person personally vs the actual issue. Part of embracing conflict is being able to listen with an open mind. Do not attack where the other person does not feel safe to express their feelings, and do not create an environment where they are told or made to feel like they should not feel a certain way. Communication is key! Fully listen to the other person, let them know they are heard. Wait until they have finished what they are saying before you share your opinion. People, in general, are more open to listening to something else's thoughts and point of view if they have been fully listened to first.
Do not raise your voice, this is about keeping things at a respectful level, and the atmosphere you are creating. You may have a history of both of you getting heated in fights and disagreements, but decide to set a new way of operating. Even if your partner raises their voice, keep yours at a civil level, ultimately, this will calm your partner down and bring their tone down as well. By nature, we do not keep our voices and our temper elevated while the other person remains perfectly calm. Lead by example, and let your partner know that you want to deal with things in a new spirit of mutual respect where you calmly hear each other out.
Remember the old adages of not walking away until you have resolved an issue, and never going to be angry? Wrong! When you are in a heated argument, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break and walk away until calmer heads prevail. If the issue is worth coming back to, agree to come back and discuss it when both of you are in a better space. If it was a trivial argument, perhaps letting it go is the best option. As far as never going to bed angry, sometimes things really are better in the morning. Often, what seemed like a huge issue, does not seem like nearly as big a deal in the morning. So, if you can't come back and have a productive conversation that night, sleep on it. Things may look better in the morning.
When you disagree about something, ask questions, don't make accusations. Someone feels heard, and that you are genuinely trying to understand them if you ask information seeking questions. Try to understand their point of view and why they feel so strongly about something. If you are not fully understanding them, or you do not think that you display the behavior they are speaking of, ask for examples. This will help you understand what they are seeing and why they are thinking and feeling the way they are. Be open minded and consider if there is validity in what they are saying. We all have room for growth, this might be an opportunity for it. Look for pieces that you agree on, things you are each willing to compromise on, and make sure that you have defined clear ways in which each of you will follow through on what you promise. Keeping these factors in mind, you can see how embracing conflict can be much more productive and healthy for a relationship than fueling it.