I recently went on an amazing two week vacation with my boyfriend. The best part of our trip wasn't swimming with sea turtles, the magnificent sunsets or the sex.
It was fighting with him.
Surprised? Well, think about it: nothing says more about the strength and resilience of a relationship than how the two people handle conflict with one another. Working through conflicts as a team, making sure to practice direct and transparent (yet still compassionate) communication is essential for a healthy relationship.
I'll be honest: you can be sure that two weeks spent with me is bound create conflict (whether it be because of my incessant need to drive and navigate, or how hangry I get when I'm not promptly fed). In the past, I've had some other conflict-inducing habits, such as stubbornness, and my impulse to repress my own feelings and people-please like a passive-aggressive martyr.
But after enough failed attempts, I've finally learned how to respect my boundaries and handle conflict in a new, loving way. In fact, I now genuinely believe that conflict can bring two people in a relationship closer.
So how do my boyfriend and I do it? We simply follow these five rules:
1. Keep the goal in mind.
Before any conversation escalates to the point of an argument, I take a pause. I turn inward and I ask myself, "Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?" And no, this question isn't meant to quell my insatiable thirst to win; it simply reminds me that the goal of conflict is not to win, but to find a resolution.
2. Avoid grandiose statements.
I've been known to lack an edit function when I speak. And on most occasions, that's still true — except when there's a conflict. If I'm consciously using Tip #1, I have the ability to reflect on how I would feel if I heard the crap coming out of my mouth directed at myself. Saying things like, "You always..." or "You never..." are globalizing statements — they don't focus on the issue at hand, and make overly general assessments about another person's character based only on one or few situations and behaviors.
Sure, it's easy to lump things into patterns. And in an effort to keep ourselves safe, it's our immediate instinct. But you're more likely to find a resolution if you treat the event as an isolated incident.
3. Replace your conjunctions.
Similar to #2, sometimes the little words make all the difference. Replacing "but" with "and" shifts the conflict from a struggle to a solution, "I know you want to go on a hike, and I'm hungry, so what can we do about that?" That's very different than the more aggressive statement, "I know you want to go on a hike, but I'm hungry. Feed me now!!!"
4. Confirm your understanding.
Most conflicts are heightened because we don't actually hear what the other person is saying. Left to my own devices, I am either planning my retort, or unconsciously assigning meaning to things while the other person is still talking.
So know your weaknesses, and make a conscious decision to really listen to the other person. A simple question like, "Can you help me to understand why you feel that way?" or the inclusive phrase, "What I'm hearing you say is that..." will not only help you stay connected to the present situation at hand, but will also give the other person more opportunities to clarify his/her meaning.
5. Say what you want instead of what you don't want.
There's a difference between a complaint and a constructive comment. Instead of defaulting to accusatory exclamations like, "I can't stand when you leave the toilet seat up," be direct, and ask for what you want: "I'd really like it if you'd put the toilet seat down after you use it." A positive approach will put people at ease rather than signaling them to prepare for battle.
There you have it: 15 years of unnecessary conflict consolidated into five tips. Use them and watch your relationship with your partner — but also your relationships with friends, family and coworkers — totally transform!
Download Amita’s Free Worksheet “The 7 Skills To Improve Any Relationship” here.