If you’ve ever interacted with another human being you’ll know that conflict is a natural occurrence between people. Goodness, have you opened Facebook lately? Facebook feeds are pretty much all conflict most of the time, and that’s often between people who don’t see each other much. Suffice it to say, when you live very closely with someone, be it a spouse or just a live-in partner of some sort, the chances of having to handle conflicts occur regularly goes up significantly.
Preparing Yourself to Handle Conflicts
The first thing you’ll want to do is be prepared for when conflicts or arguments arise. Don’t sit and stress about it or worry so much that you end up causing it to happen, but definitely be ready for when a conflict comes up.
Accept That Arguments Will Happen
Conflicts and disagreements will happen, and there’s just not a way around it. Relationships aren’t all love and unicorns, and accepting the fact that you will most likely argue at some point is logical and healthy. There’s just no way you can spend your life together, with all of your differences in thinking and living, without experiencing fights once in a while. Some arguments are more common than others, some are bigger and more important, and some are probably kind of petty. In any case, the truth is that sometimes you’ll have to handle conflicts, and you’ll want to do so without ruining your relationship.
Have a Conflict Plan
This seems weird, having a plan for what happens when you argue or when a conflict arises. Who wants to plan for that? However, being well prepared and on the same page for the inevitable can seriously improve your chances of having a productive result. Make sure you work together to make a plan when you’re in a good place to ensure that you can continue working together when you eventually hit a rough patch.
So how do you set a conflict plan? Here are some things to consider:
Talk About Experience with Past Conflicts
How do you both handle conflicts? Sit down with your partner and talk about some memorable past conflicts and how you handled them. Did it get ugly? How did you react vs how did the other person react? How did you feel about both of those reactions? If you both understand how the other person handles those situations, you can help adjust your actions and reactions to make it easier on the both of you.
Talk About How You’d Like to Handle Conflicts
Taking into account all of your past experiences and your tendency for how you handle conflicts on the regular, now talk about how you’d like to handle conflicts going forward. Discuss how you’d like the other person to handle conflicts with you. Find out how you react, and what methods you can use to work with each other better in those situations.
My boyfriend and I have been together for a year now (wow!) and at the beginning, if we’d have a conflict or a small disagreement, his first instinct was to leave. He’d decide that he was going to go upstairs to the couch or just head back to his place instead of staying the night. This was distressing to me, as I felt like it was him abandoning me when I wanted to stay and work it out. When I expressed my feelings, and we mutually decided never to abandon each other in a fight, it made conflict situations more agreeable and set the precedence that we resolve our issues face to face and don’t run away from or bottle up our issues.
Consider Setting Argument Rules
Another example I have is that of two good friends I have. They’ve been married for many years, and their relationship is pretty solid, but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally have a fight that shakes the foundation a little. When they realized they didn’t like the way their arguing made them feel they sat down and physically wrote out a list of rules. These rules included things like “No name calling”, “no running away and leaving the other parent with all the kids” (which included an addendum that if they needed space to cool off they had to take half the children with them for it), and other useful things.
Try Your Best to Follow the Rules
There’s definitely going to be times you don’t follow the rules 100%, slip-ups occur when you’re upset, but having a set of clearly defined and agreed-upon rules can really help keep a situation calmer. Do your best to follow the rules and remember them, the simple act of stopping to remember the rules could cool you off significantly and be a bigger benefit to the conversation. If a rule gets broken, the other person can bring that up and you can use it as a way to possibly put the argument on pause the argument until the rules can be followed again.
Conflict Rules Printable (Free!)
I put together a “Rules for Respect Printable” that’s free for you to download. It’s a standard letter size, so you can print it off on regular printer paper or whatever you prefer. The idea is to print it out, and sit down with your significant other to set some rules to follow to maintain the love and respect when arguing/figuring out conflict.
Click on the above preview to open the larger file for download/saving.
Working Towards Effective Resolution
Okay, so now that we’ve discussed how to properly set yourself up for effective communication during an argument, let’s talk about how to continue on towards resolution. There’s no use arguing if it isn’t going to get you anywhere, or you’re just going to keep having the same argument because you can’t ever find a landing place.
Be Honest but Not Mean
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to disagreements. If something’s bothering you, get it off your chest and be open about your thoughts and feelings regarding the situation. Make sure you’re speaking what is actually the factual truth, and not something that is intended to return the hurt you’re feeling or be mean. If you just lash out because you’re angry, you’re more likely to push them away, and you’ll probably find that your argument has the opposite effect of what you were hoping for by bringing things up in the first place.
Use I-Statements or Feeling Statements
If we take a trip back to our college or high school psychology and interpersonal development classes, we’ll recall that using feeling-statements (or I-statements) to express things can make a world of difference when it comes to proper communication. These statements put the responsibility of your point of view on you (thus starting with “I”), instead of making you sound accusatory or as if you blame them for everything you are feeling.
Examples of You-Statements
As an example, let’s consider that you’re upset with your partner for being out too much with their friends and you wish they’d give you more of their time.
- “You don’t even care to spend enough time for me! You’re always just out with your friends instead!”
- “You must not care about me as much as you care about them…”
- “You don’t make me a priority.”
Why These You-Statements are Bad
These statements immediately put the burden of your feelings about the situation on your partner. When you use a you-statement, it can easily put your partner right into a defensive mode instead of putting them in a place where they want to help resolve the problem. You want your partner to be open to hearing what you have to say, not actively trying to rebut everything you are bringing up.
They May Not Be Accurate
Take a moment to consider that what you’re accusing your partner of might be wrong. These you-statements imply that your partner knows and is willfully hurting you with their actions. Could that be the case? Yes. Is it likely the case? Probably not. Most of the time when you hurt someone you love it is due to lack of thoughtfulness, not malice. It’s believable that your partner may just not even realize what they’re doing/have done.
Examples of I-Statements
Instead of the bad examples listed above, consider these I-Statements instead:
- “I feel like you spend more time with your friends than with me.”
- “I worry that you don’t have enough time for me.”
- “I’m concerned that we’re not spending enough time building our relationship.”
Why These are Good
We are all responsible for our own feelings, and this puts the weight of those feelings where they belong; ourselves. These statements also show that you acknowledge that the situation as you see it may not be how it really is, but also addresses how you feel about it while allowing you to express yourself. These statements are more likely to put your partner in a place where they want to work together to help how you feel, instead of feeling like they need to defend themselves.
Take a Minute
If you need a minute to calm down before having a discussion-take it. It’s better to come at a conversation with a clear head and a calm attitude than to reach out rashly in anger and say something you’ll regret.
Don’t Run Away
While taking a minute may be necessary, you can’t just run away from an argument and expect it to go away. When one partner disappears on the other, the one left behind just sits and seethes and nothing is resolved. In this case, if you really need a moment, you need to tell your partner honestly that you need that time before taking it. That way you’re both well prepared, and understand that you will come back with the intention of resolving it when you are in a better state of mind.
Don’t Go to Bed Angry
It may sound cliche, but never go to sleep on an argument. You’ll both stew on it, struggle to sleep and start the next day thinking about it. Likewise, you should never part on bad terms. Try to resolve any big conflicts or issues before going to bed, leaving for work, or spending too much time apart. It’s not only better for the relationship, but better for your overall health and wellbeing as well.
Accept Your Role in the Conflict and Apologize
This one can be hard for some people, but not only should you take responsibility for your feelings (using those I-statements) but you should accept responsiblity for your actions too. There is likely some part you’ve played in either what caused the conflict, or in how it is being handled, and it may not be all good. Take time to look at it from your partner’s perspective and own up to anything you could have done better. Making the appropriate apologies can go a long way in not only repairing any damage done, but getting your partner to do the same.
Once you’ve handled the conflict and found a resolution, it’s nice to take a moment to make up. Whether it’s just a few minutes spent cuddling, or it’s planning a date night where you can reconnect, it’s good to do something that helps you reconnect and remember why you love each other.
My boyfriend and I like to take a moment to stop and tell each other all of the things we love and appreciate about one another While we do this on a regular basis, we do it a little bit extra following a disagreement because it reaffirms that not only do we still love each other, we actually love each other a little more for working through it together.