Conflict is common in partner relationships. In a 2011 study, only 16% of couples reported experiencing little conflict in their relationship. A whopping 60%, on the other hand, reported moderate conflict. Another 22% reported often experiencing conflict. Clearly, if your relationship has zero conflict at all, you’re the exception and not the rule! What are your options when the conflict becomes too great, though?
The first option you have is couple’s counseling. It’s no surprise couple’s counseling has proven effective for the dueling duo - 97% of couples who were experiencing conflict and sought out counseling felt they received the help they needed. Nearly the same amount - 93% - reported they felt they had new tools which could help them navigate trouble. However, these reports are greatly from couples who seek counseling after they’ve already experienced a significant amount of conflict. Many couples, in fact, only use counseling as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage or partnership. Additionally, Dr. John Gottman, one of the leading figures in marriage and relationship counseling, predicts couples wait nearly six years - yes, years - after conflict starts to actually seek counseling for their relationship. Yikes!
If couple’s counseling is not an option for you, though - for example, you don’t have a counselor who fits your budget in your area, or you or your partner are just not ready for counseling - there are still options to reduce conflict! Check out these tips from the pros at Higher Life Pathways to reduce partner conflict at home.
Send Better Messages
We’d bet that any couple’s counselor you talk to will stress the importance of communication. Communication is more than just arguing it out, though - it’s about how we send and receive information. Read these two examples, and tell me which one you’d receive better:
Option 1: Your partner says “you’re always nagging me to do dishes. I’ll do them when I do them.”
Option 2: Your partner says “I feel overwhelmed thinking of all the chores I need to do. I’ll be able to do them later tonight, after I finish my leftover work from today.”
Chances are, option 2 feels more palatable to you. The reason is option 2 is an “I” statement - that is, a statement that talks about YOUR feelings, instead of someone else’s actions. The next time your partner does something that rubs you the wrong way, try formatting your statement like this:
I feel (insert your feeling here) when (insert the action here, without using “you”).
I feel neglected when the TV is turned on right when we both come home. I would feel more connected if we talked a little about our days, first.
I feel disrespected when I do the majority of the chores. I would feel more respected if the chores were shared evenly.
I feel exhausted after working all day and then taking our child to sports. I would feel less exhausted if we took turns taking our kid to soccer practice.
I feel aggravated when I feel communication breaks down. I would feel calmer if we both used active listening skills to hear each other.
Speaking of active listening skills …
Receive Messages Better
If one of our steps is to send better messages, the other is to be able to skillfully receive those messages. Some of our best tips for active listening include:
Put distractions aside. When it’s time for an important conversation, turn off the TV, put the phone down, and stop doing the chores.
Listen to hear, not to respond. If you catch yourself interrupting or thinking of what you want to say in response, you’re not truly hearing your partner.
Reflect what your partner said to you. After they send a message, make sure you received the correct one by saying “what I heard you say is (message), am I getting that right?”. This gives them a chance to clarify any miscommunications, too.
Collaborate Instead of Compromise
What’s the difference between compromising and collaborating? Compromising is the act of giving something up to get something in return. Collaboration, on the other hand, shifts your mindset: collaboration is working together to come up with the best solution to a problem. The main difference is compromise makes us think how we as individuals can get the most without giving anything up, while collaboration makes us think how we as a couple can solve a problem as a team.
We hope this blog post inspires you to resolve conflicts within your relationship in a new, healthier way! If you’d like to talk to a counselor about it, we’d be glad to model communication, active listening, and collaboration. At Higher Life Pathways, couples counseling is our speciality. Reach out to us today; we look forward to hearing from you!
Looking for more relationship advice from the professionals at Higher Life Pathways? Check out Dr. Holder's newest book, "Six Key Steps to Unlocking a Healthy and Productive Relationship"! Inside, you'll find many different skills on conflict resolution - including marriage builders and marriage breakers. Check it out on Amazon today!