Part 3 of 3
The third essential for a long lasting love is managing conflict. Expecting conflict to be completely eliminated from your relationship is an unrealistic expectation. All relationships have conflict and conflict can actually be a good thing in a relationship. If couples can learn to find the deeper meaning and goals underneath conflict they can begin to understand their partner better and make your goals and dreams come true together.
Reducing the Four Horsemen, as John Gottman labels them, is critical in any healthy relationship. The 4 Horsemen are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Simply learning to reduce these four things and replace them with key positive conflict management skills can greatly improve the quality of a relationship.
69% of relationship conflict is perpetual and what this means is that issues will never fully get resolved because they are about our differences in personalities, values, and goals, in some way. The first goal in conflict management is to gain a deeper understanding of our partner’s feelings and needs.
For example, being a spender versus a saver, or being a shy person versus a social person. By gaining the skills to manage conflict that make our partner feel heard, and that when they are in pain the world stops and I listen, we create a safe place for them to share their feelings and needs with us. When you are the one sharing a complaint, one way to increase intimacy and manage conflict better is to bring up an issue or problem with your partner within a few days in a softened way.
Have these discussions with each other in the way that conveys the message that “we may not always agree on issues, but I love you, and honor your feelings and wishes.”
Another skill is compromise, be ready to talk about areas of disagreement that are non-negotiable for you, and other areas that are flexible. Bring those to the table, and compromise is more able to happen. Also know that it is okay to take a time out when you need one. When you become flooded or overwhelmed during a discussion, your brain is not working in a way that allows for empathy and understanding. It’s in protection mode, and it’s best to take at least 20 minutes to cool down, and self soothe before coming back to the discussion.
But remember don’t take longer than 24 hours, and always say to your partner that you will come back to talk more about this issue. Otherwise it’s possible that you’re leaving your partner feeling emotionally abandoned.
And don’t forget to use humor! Try to lighten the mood when possible. Humor is a great way to repair from an argument or a negative interaction.