As much as we wish to avoid it, conflict is inevitable in any relationship. Whether it is a small disagreement or major miscommunication, fighting—in all its forms—is a natural part of any romantic relationship. Some conflicts are harder to resolve than others, and sometimes forgiveness may feel like an impossible goal. Although expressing anger and hurt is healthy and often encouraged in relationships, it leaves couples wondering to what extent is it healthy or productive?
A study published in 2012 in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology says that having constructive conflicts in a relationship can actually bring the couple closer together. Researchers concluded that the honesty expressed in a short-term, outward expression of anger can spark new conversations on how to benefit the relationship in the long run. This theory supports other studies’ findings that have reported similar outcomes.
With this information in mind, here are some tips to remember for the next time you and your partner run into a conflict:
Seek to dismantle the fight before it happens, if possible.
Noam Ostrander, an associate professor of social work at Depaul University often encourages couples to find the root of the problem before it begins, and look for a compromise before it “blows up”. If you find you and your partner to be circling back on the same argument, pinpoint exactly what is triggering it, and ways to work around it. This may include a brief pause, maybe stepping away from the argument, or moving onto a different subject until feelings of anger can subside.
Own your anger.
Pushing down or denying ourselves of our true feelings can lead to much bigger problems in the long run, and leave current problems unresolved and stagnant. Sometimes, we may want to avoid getting angry with our partner in order to preserve and promote peace, but this can be more detrimental than helpful. Clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D recommends communicating these emotions to both yourself and those around you. Facing these emotions opens up a realm of possible steps to solve the problem, which may include taking time away to cool down or changing the subject momentarily.
Call a “time-out”
Ostrander recognizes that during arguments, we may enter what appears to be a “fight, flight, or freeze mode”, which can result in irreparable actions that we may regret. Regardless of which category you may fall into, calling a “time-out” or break is perhaps one of the best ways to move forward into a healthy conversation. Robert Taibbi, a licensed clinical social worker, says that taking the time to calm down is an excellent way to regulate your emotions before taking any further steps. Ostrander recommends the following scenario: “Perhaps somebody says, ‘Okay, I want to have this conversation. I need like 10 minutes to calm down. I love you, I’m not going anywhere.’” Now that a desire for resolution has been communicated, couples can use this time to calm down before reentering the conversation. Taibbi recommends performing these exercises to achieve calmness:
- Taking a walk
- Listening to some music.
- Taking a shower
- Practice some deep breathing or mindfulness meditation
Listen, and ask for clarification if needed.
Sometimes when we argue with a partner, we seek to be right or to prove them wrong. This is often more counterproductive than helpful, as it can leave us or our partners feeling unheard or misunderstood. Listening is an important part of any conflict, as it can bring couples closer to understanding and resolution. This includes making eye contact, being mindful of receptive body language, and resisting the urge to interrupt.
Make requests instead of complaints.
It is quite easy to place labels or actions on partners to communicate how we view them. This is why many fights begin with “You always…” Accusations are not productive to conversations, as it can put your partner down rather than encourage or uplift them. Consider making requests instead of pointing fingers or accusing. The best way to phrase this, according to Ostrander, may be like this: “I’m not feeling great. I’m stressed about the way the house looks. Would you mind picking some stuff up?” This is more respectful as opposed to “You’re always leaving stuff around the house.”