You had this really nasty fight with your significant other and you can’t stop thinking about it. The kind of argument that lasts for hours and you can’t even remember what you are fighting about by the time you are done. You feel emotionally drained and physically exhausted. Yet you keep replaying the argument in your head and wondering where it got off track or what you could have done differently. As a result, you aren’t feeling like making up or being close. Have you ever experienced this?
It’s not only common for couples to have unsolvable conflict, but it’s also common to feel temporarily more distant after intense conflict. And many of these couples also tolerate conflict and differences without the marriage ending in divorce. In fact, marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman has found that “69% of marital conflict is unsolvable, but doesn’t lead to divorce.” How is this possible?
Without thinking about it, people will either gear up for an argument, withdraw or freeze up when they are stressed or upset. With this in mind, having conflict in your relationship isn’t the problem as much as how you deal with your upsetness and differences. And if you have a conflict, how well you repair after the argument can sustain or taint a relationship. Let’s explore how to deal with differences so that your conflict doesn’t leave you feeling full of toxic dread and resentment.
Do a Relationship Conflict Self-Check
If you are struggling with conflict in your relationship and unsure what to work on, first reflect on what it’s like to argue or have a conflict with you. I know it’s easier to see what it’s like to argue with your partner, but it’s just as important to look at how you have an impact on others. Here are some questions to help you with self-reflection:
How often do you lose your cool or how intense does your conflict get?
How often do you shut down or threaten to end the relationship in conflict?
How do you react and respond to each other when you are upset?
How do you repair after a conflict if hurtful things are said or done?
5 Skills to Make Marriage Conflict Less Toxic
After doing the self-check you probably have a few ideas on what you are willing to work on next time there is a conflict. Here are a few more skills to practice in your relationship the next time you are upset or experiencing conflict with your partner:
- Clear Your Head First: If your emotions are high or the conflict is heated up, it may be hard to think clearly. You may need to temporarily step away from the argument to clear your head and calm your emotions. Find an activity that helps you clear your head like going for a walk, writing in a journal, or meditating. Promise to return to the conversation when you’ve calmed down.
- Evaluate Your Intentions: Once calmer, ask yourself if what you are doing or saying will get you closer or father to your goal. Reflect on your delivery and whether you may pressing or criticizing in your message. If you return to the conflict with the intention of trying to get a response out of your spouse, you are probably setting yourself up for more conflict.
- Own Just Your Part: The quickest way to defuse the conflict is to own just your part. You don’t need to take all the blame if that’s not accurate just to get the conflict to stop. But fully taking responsibility for just your part in the problem or conflict moves the conflict to the repair stage.
- Let Go of Need to Be Right: If you keep pushing your point or trying to get your partner to agree with you, you will escalate the stalemate and close off open communication. Instead be curious about your partner’s position and let go of the need to be right or be in agreement.
- Agree to Disagree: Many conflicts are not solvable, but they are repairable. If you truly don’t agree on something, find a way to live with the disagreement. In doing so, the person who wants to do something new or different agrees to take the work and consequences of their choice.
Most of the conflict you encounter with your partner involves different preferences or personal hurts. Working on these conflict management skills can help stop the build-up of toxic resentment. And some differences are deal breakers, and one of you may set a boundary when you can’t live with the difference. But most of the time you can find a new way to deal with the differences or repair after unsolvable conflict.
What works for you in dealing with conflict in your relationship
You don’t have to keep reacting and staying stuck in the same old patterns. You can find new ways to manage hurts and frustrations so you can start connecting again. Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers marriage counseling for one at her practice in Independence MO and online. She helps men and women who are struggling in their relationships find better ways to connect even if there is only one spouse in the therapy room. Schedule your free 15-minute phone consult with Marci to determine if working with a counselor is the next best step to take. (Note: Relationship counseling for one includes those in nearby areas of Blue Springs, Grain Valley, and Lee’s Summit.)