Resolving conflicts during the course of a disagreement can be difficult and frustrating. When we first look to enter a relationship, we do so with the reasonable hope that it meets our desires for companionship, emotionally and spiritually. We expect mutual growth. In the beginning, we go out of our way to accommodate the other person. Pleasing people in relationships is paramount and our love often outweighs petty annoyances. After a short time however, being on our best behavior becomes a strain, and conflicts surface.
Unfortunately, it is the lack of communication that bottles up inside that may eventually cause a major disagreement. Avoidance of conflict, or certain topics, restricts the areas in which we interact, and decreases feelings of closeness. Not talking about how we feel, leads to increasing distance in a relationship. How can we approach conflicts with more confidence that we will be able to resolve them? By facing them in the correct manner.
Conflict in any relationship is inevitable. Much of how we resolve our conflicts is determined by how our families did so when we were being raised. It is how we deal with the conflict that determines whether or not our relationship is damaged or strengthened. Conflict is healthy. Differences exist. When we resolve them successfully, we feel closer. Although it may feel threatening to acknowledge differences, intimacy flourishes. It is by revealing who we really are, rather than projecting an image of how we would like to be seen, that we continue to grow in our relationships.
Conflict is inevitable but one can be skeptical whether or not it is all that healthy. We need a way to talk about problems, instead of arguing about them and then withdrawing. One way to improve the relationship is to improve our ability to be more empathetic, expressive, and learning to avoid pitfalls that commonly escalate during a conflict. The following are some ways to resolve conflicts in a relationship:
- Try not to be defensive: When the other person is hurt or upset with you, it may be difficult to keep still while he expresses his feelings. But when you are preoccupied with defending yourself, you stop listening. You may try to convince him there is no reason to be upset by giving excuses, arguing about the facts, offering advice, reassurance, counter-complaints, or analyzing his behavior. Remember, a defensive response is basically an attempt to get the other person to stop feeling, so that you won’t have to deal with your emotions or feel blamed.
- Try to listen more: Listening seems quite simple and passive, yet it can be a powerfully active process. It takes a lot of concentration to listen accurately, especially when the other person is hurt. Remember you must pay attention. The closer attention you pay to him, the quieter you become yourself. Once someone is able to explain how he feels without being interrupted, he feel better that his message is getting through to you.
- Remember to paraphrase: Paraphrasing consists of telling the other person, in your own words, that you have heard him. There is no need to justify or answer yourself; just say what you understood. Once he feels heard, it will be easier for him to listen to you.
- Try to reflect the feelings of the other person: You should always try to imagine what the other person is feeling. That does not mean you should make assumptions or psychoanalyze or dictate to him what he is really feeling. It simply is a way to find out if you understand what he is feeling.
- Empathize: Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and imagine how you would feel if you had the same experience. Some ways to do this is to listen to their voice, look at their eyes, and say what you imagine they are feeling. It is not necessary to be right. Your concern and effort is to understand and help them figure out how they feel.
- Listen for positive intent: Positive intent is the wish for a better relationship. Hurtful statements often arise from a desire to demonstrate one own pain. Remember that behind the expression of pain, there is a wish that things could be different. You can use your own feelings as a clue to what the other may feel. If you feel hurt, they probably do as well. If you are too upset to listen, you, more than likely, will go through the following cycle: you have a quarrel, in which neither of you feels heard, you withdraw for a while, and then you try to make up in some fashion.
During the disagreement it is very difficult to listen. Both people feel frustrated because neither feels heard. As a result, points may be exaggerated, previous conflicts may be brought up, spiteful comments can be said and this creates more hurt. One does not have to end the world or the relationship due to a little tiff. What typically happens next is that both people withdraw for a while to cool off. Sometimes both need a “time out” from one another. That is all right. One reason for withdrawing after a disagreement is the fear that talking about what happened will just start the disagreement all over again.
Making up is very important. Simply ignoring the conflict leads to increasing distance, and it is likely that the same issue will build up again. Though both people may have said many foolish things, the disagreement may have revealed some hidden resentments that need to be discussed. One way to deal with this is to approach the other person to determine whether or not he is ready to talk about the disagreement. Disclosing the hurt and fear behind your frustration will help you listen to each other. Acknowledging your own role in escalating the conflict can also help. Ask yourself the following questions after a conflict:
Did you give advice? Did you make excuses? Did you accuse?
If you practice these techniques with one another, you should see a difference in your communication.