No matter how compatible or how deeply in love the two of you are, you and your mate are bound to bump heads at some point. You don’t have to view conflict as a red flag. Any two individuals coexisting together will have disagreements. Conflict can actually be an essential component to creating an even stronger bond. Learn how to handle relationship conflict and keep it from causing lasting damage to your relationship.
Beware of H.A.L.T.
Recovery and self-help groups use an acronym, H.A.L.T., to determine certain conditions that could make you emotionally vulnerable. This acronym can be useful for all individuals to know when you are low on resources and cannot effectively deal with stressful situations like an argument with your boyfriend.
Sometimes, it is better to attend to your most basic needs before trying to resolve relationship conflict. Assess yourself before trying to communicate with your partner. If you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it may be best to delay the discussion until those needs have been met.
Hold off a conversation until your emotions are under control.
Gaining control of your emotions is the first action step of any conflict resolution plan. Allowing anger, frustration, or rejection to overcome you clouds your better judgment and can result in you saying or doing something you later regret. When you are in control of your emotions, you can hold a discussion that is productive for the relationship.
Practice emotion regulation by self-soothing.
If you notice that your feelings continue to cloud your judgment, you need to get them under control first. Gain control of your emotions with regulation techniques like:
Practicing deep breathing with the 4-7-8 method. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts. Hold the breath for 7 counts, and then release the air through your mouth for 8 counts.
Phone a friend to vent or take your mind off what’s troubling you.
Take your dog for a walk.
Listen to soothing music.
Write it down.
Journaling can be a great way to relieve stress, understand what you are thinking, and gather your thoughts after a disagreement. Journaling can be used as an emotion regulation technique or as a form of problem-solving, or both.
Grab a pen and pad and freely write about the problem you are having with your partner. Describe in as much detail as you can what you’re thinking, feeling, and wanting to do. Writing out the problem can help you better understand both sides of the disagreement.
You can even use your journal as a role-play tool for what you would like to say to your partner after a disagreement. You might start an entry out as Dear, boyfriend/girlfriend4 Full stop The process of writing out what you are feeling can help you clarify your thoughts and decide what to do.
Practice active listening.
Communication is the key that unlocks the door of conflict. Effective communication requires careful and attentive listening to your partner, and vice versa. Many problems arise during communication when you are listening to reply rather than listening to understand. Try these active listening tips:
Eliminate distractions3 Dashturn off the TV and put your phones on silent.
Turn and face your partner. Lean forward towards the person. Make eye contact.
Hear your partner’s entire perspective before speaking.
Paraphrase what you heard by saying something like It sounds like you’re saying3 Full stop
Try to empathize by looking for something about your partner’s perspective that you agree with.
Use I statements.
When it’s time for you to share your own perspective be sure to speak effectively. A great combination is to use I statements in conjunction with X, Y, Z statements.
Using an I statement allows you to take ownership for your own thoughts/feelings and minimizes your partner’s defensiveness. The X, Y, Z part helps your partner see specifics.
For example, you might say When you come home(X) and immediately go to bed(Y), I, feel very ignored(Z). The statement can become even more effective when you start with Z or the I statement: I feel very ignored when you come home and immediately go to bed.
Attend to the present moment.
Many times a small issue becomes amplified when one or the other starts bringing up past issues. Always try to focus on the present moment and the problem at hand.
When you bring up past issues, your ability to work through them becomes even more difficult. If this happens, one of you can easily point out, Hey, sweetheart, let’s not bring up the past. Let’s figure out what can we do about the here and now. Ok?
Address the behavior, not the person.
Another potential roadblock to effective communication occurs when one or the other partner attacks the person rather than the issue. If one of you goes into a long rant about the other’s personality traits, defensiveness and anger will probably pop up.
Talk about a specific behavior, such as leaving dirty laundry strewn across the floor instead of calling your partner messy or a pig. Your partner will be much more willing to work on one behavior if you don’t insult who they are as a person in general.
Tense discussions are difficult to maneuver without taking eye contact into consideration. When bringing up particularly difficult topics, relationship experts suggest starting off in a side-by-side orientation.
Research shows that men especially respond better when doing shared tasks like housework or walking the dog. Once the tense, awkward topic initiation is over, you two can face one another and talk one-on-one.
A great way to manage a tense disagreement is to introduce an aspect of playfulness or lightheartedness. A conflict between lovers can be more swiftly resolved and the tension can be diffused when one of you uses humor.
Humor must be used at the right time–ideally, when you are laughing with the other person and not at her.
Research shows that affiliative humor, that is, inside jokes that connect people, is most useful during conflict.
For example, if your girlfriend tends to go to sleep with the TV on, you might joke with her and ask whether she’s still tuning in to her favorite show in her dreams. This joking nature can help her become aware of the issue (leaving the TV on), while keeping the discussion lighthearted.
Respect individual differences.
Many argue that respect is equal to love in fostering growth and strengthening the bonds of a relationship. Your relationship will only continue to flourish when you make your partner feel respected. Respecting your partner’s differences means:
Demonstrating an understanding that his/her opinions, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs may be different from your own.
Showing an interest in his/her unique opinions.
Validating his/her opinions even if you do not agree with them.
Celebrate each battle you overcome together.
Use the conflict that you and your partner face as a tool that deepens your bond. If you do this, you will come to welcome conflict because you see it as a way to bring the two of you closer.
Once you have hashed out your differences and come to a mutual agreement about an issue, don’t hesitate to turn up the dial on laughter, affection, and warmth. Rejoice in the idea that you successfully overcame conflict.
Seek counseling for particularly difficult issues.
If you and your mate can’t seem to come to agreement or even agree to disagree about a problem, it may be wise to seek professional counseling.
This would be an option for an issue that one or both of you deems significant to the health of the relationship. One that, if not overcome, can create long-term discord between you.
Seeking professional help can equip you with the appropriate communication and problem-solving skills to handle bigger issues that arise in your relationship over, time.