Conflict is common to every romantic relationship. Disagreements and verbal arguments are inevitable when two people spend a significant amount of their time together, and it is quite normal to have differing opinions to your partner. A conflict in a relationship can range from arguments about things like what to eat for dinner or who was supposed to pay a bill, to more significant things like career or money.
Conflicts are not inherently bad; in fact, when resolved constructively, they can improve your understanding of your partner, as well as make future conflicts smoother to navigate. Yet it often happens that conflicts escalate, or go without being resolved. Both of these can negatively affect your relationship in the long run. “What is important in a relationship, be it when you’re dating, living together or married, is that the foundation is of love and affection. This is only possible through communication and establishing healthy boundaries,” says Geeta Magesh, consultant clinical psychologist based in Hyderabad. She shares some helpful ways in which you can resolve conflict successfully.
1. Communicate properly.
In a relationship, we often tend to minimise, devalue or fail to vocalise our needs. When we are hurt or angry, rather than communicating our feelings to our partner, we choose indirect ways of expression like giving them the silent treatment or being hostile in normal conversations. Our partner may not know how we feel, and this can cause unnecessary escalation of fights. Open and direct communication about what is bothering you will allow your partner to understand the situation, and work together towards a solution.
2. Listen to your partner.
Listening is an active skill, and for a conflict to be resolved, you need to listen to your partner as much as you need yourself to be heard. In arguments, we may tend to get defensive or interrupt the other person to get our own point across. In long-term relationships, you might be confident in your awareness of how your partner feels, but you can still be in the wrong, and this can lead to the escalation of a fight. Try to be patient and understand things from your partner’s perspective.
3. Acknowledge when you are in the wrong.
“After a disagreement, we often say sorry without fully understanding or acknowledging what we did wrong,” says Magesh. This reduces the meaning of the apology, as well as makes you prone to having the same fights over and over. She advises trying to understand your partner’s complaints, and use sentences like “I understand you were hurt, and that I made you feel this way.” This will make your partner feel heard and understood, and improve your overall communication.
4. Stick to the present issue
For a constructive discussion, you need to address one issue at a time. During an argument, couples often throw in every complaint against each other and every mistake committed in the past, a habit that famous American psychologist and researcher Dr John Gottman called “kitchen sinking”. But the more complaints you raise, the less likely it is to solve any properly. Learn to talk about the real issue so you can avoid constant fighting that leads nowhere.
5. Compromise when possible.
Compromise is a major part of conflict resolution in any successful relationship, but it can be hard to achieve. Find a middle ground that works for both of you. Good compromises foster trust, accountability and security in your relationship. A good compromise could look something like attending an event for your partner even when you want to stay at home, but also leaving early to spend some time alone together. Keep in mind a compromise is healthy only when both of you are happy with it.
6. Find solutions that work for your relationship.
The aim of trying to solve a conflict should be to reach a solution where you can meet your partner halfway. This can happen in the form of positive compensations, says Magesh. “For example, if the reason for your argument is that your partner is too busy at work and returns home late every day, they could compensate by waking up early to get you a cup of coffee so you can spend some time together.” Try to understand the reason behind your conflict, and work out a solution that would be best suited for you.
7. Learn when to get some space.
If you find yourself unable to have a constructive conversation at the moment because of heightened emotions, or if you are only talking in circles, take a break. Even if the popular saying goes “Don’t go to bed angry”, sometimes it is the healthiest to get some space, decompress and revisit the argument after some time.