Always arguing with your partner? 7 ways to resolve conflict
Whether you're forever bickering or have huge blow-up rows, constant conflict can undermine your relationship. Burying resentment doesn't do any good either – but there are healthy ways to express your feelings. Here are seven ways to resolve conflict and heal the hurt...
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1. Recognise your partner's way of dealing with conflict
Your partner can't bear arguments and slinks off to the shed at the first sign of trouble - but you have no problem expressing yourself. Or perhaps your other half is happy to have a slanging match in the street, while you shut the window at the first raised voice, worried the neighbours will hear.
There isn't necessarily a right or wrong way of arguing – everyone is different, and most people are influenced by their upbringing – but for a relationship to last, you need to express your emotions in a similar way to your partner.
That's according to Dr John Gottman from the University of Washington, who has studied hundreds of couples and claims that he can tell which marriages will end in divorce with 91% accuracy.
Having different arguing styles doesn't have to mean your relationship is doomed – but it does mean you might need to modify the way you approach your partner. For instance, if you prefer not to talk about things but your partner does, recognise that you will need to have a conversation with them. And if your partner hates shouting, give them space after a disagreement and talk to them calmly later.
2. Wait until you've calmed down
In fact, calming down before you talk to your partner is always good advice. We rarely make good decisions when we're seething with anger, and it's even harder to properly listen to your partner's point of view or show them empathy when you're in a rage. Pick the right time to talk – bedtime when you're both tired isn't a good idea – and try to keep your voice down.
Before you start the conversation, think about what you would like to achieve. What would be the best outcome? Be honest with yourself – is it about point scoring, or do you really want to work towards a compromise and amicable solution?
3. Tackle the big issues
Many couples find that they have the same old arguments again and again. If you find yourself repeatedly clashing over the same kind of thing, ask yourself what it represents to you. Are you really angry because she "forgot" to buy your favourite food from the supermarket – or is there a more deep-seated resentment that she focuses all of her time and energy on her friends and family, and you are last to be considered?
If you want to stop the bickering, be brave, and get to the real issues. It may be that your partner has no idea how you really feel – explain and it gives them a chance to change their behaviour.
4. Don't drag up the past
It's tempting to list every wrong-doing and hurt when you're upset, but do it too often, and you will drive a wedge in your relationship. Focus on resolving the issue at hand – ie what your partner has done to annoy you and how it makes you feel. Dredge up prior problems and it will only add to the weight of bad feeling and make it harder to resolve the issue you're currently facing.
5. Give praise and positivity
Research shows that it takes six positive statements to balance out one negative one. If you're always pointing out what's wrong with your partner, it's likely to destroy any good feeling between you.
Presuming that you want things to work between you (and if not, focus your energy on getting out of the relationship), make sure that you give your partner compliments, praise and support freely.
Why should you, when they don't do the same for you? If you set the tone for the relationship, hopefully your partner will pick up the change and start to treat you the same way.
6. Word things carefully
If you verbally attack your partner, don't be surprised if they get defensive and lash out in response.
Avoid talking in absolutes, "you never" or "you always," and instead start by saying how it makes you feel. "When you do this, it makes me feel that..."
At the same time, be specific. Rather than saying, "You love golf more than me," say, "it would mean a lot to me if we could spend every other Saturday together."
7. Why you should both 'own' the problem
According to Dr Gottman, couples who are headed for divorce take the problem and put it on their partner. "'The problem is you, and your personality, your character; you're a screw-up.' That's an attack. So then their partner responds defensively and denies responsibility and says: 'You're the problem; I'm not the problem.'"
In contrast, couples who stay together treat the problem like a football they kick around with each other. "They say: 'We've got this problem. Let's take a look at it, let's kick it around. How do you see it? I see it this way, and we kick it around.' They have empathy for each other's positions because they both acknowledge how they contribute to the problem."
Listen to what your partner says and consider their side of things. It takes effort, but if you can both work on the issue together, you're more likely to resolve the conflict.