Falling in love is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s exhilarating, overwhelming, and even euphoric. But once the romantic bliss fades (and it inevitably does), sticky issues like misunderstandings, heated arguments, blame games, or simply growing apart due to differences can drive a wedge in your relationship.
Is it any wonder Stanford research reveals nearly 70% of heterosexual unmarried couples break up within the first year? Or first marriages have a 40% chance of divorce, with subsequent marriages having an even higher chance of failure?
To avoid becoming a grim relationship statistic, check out these seven conflict resolution tips for couples.
1. Directly express your thoughts and feelings
At times, you may decide to keep your grievances with your partner to yourself and bring them up at some later date. But before you know it, those unspoken grievances can accumulate and gain emotional velocity like a tornado. It’s crucial that you and your partner directly express what’s bothering you in a firm, honest, and caring manner.
To do so, open the discussion by showing consideration for your loved one’s feelings by saying, “I care about our relationship.” Or, “I know you don’t mean to upset me.” Next, describe the behavior you’d your partner to change in clear detail and express the feelings you are experiencing, whether you’re angry, hurt, irritated, frustrated or confused. Then ask for a specific change, such as, “I would rather you speak to me in a quiet tone.” Or, “I would like it if you’d wait until I finish my sentence before talking.” Finally, ask for an agreement at the end of the request: “Are you willing to agree to that?”
2. Don’t Blame Your Partner
The reasons why you may be tempted to blame your partner for problems are endless — whether it’s something they said, did, or didn’t do. But nothing good will come of it because the person taking the blame will feel attacked, forcing them to respond to the blame instead of the problem at hand. Imagine a scenario in which a partner says, “You’re crazy for thinking that!” Immediately the blame is shifted away from the issue, such as a fear of infidelity. Immediately the other partner will go on the defensive: “I’m crazy? You’re the one who’s crazy!”
So, here’s a tip on how to handle conflict in a relationship: Avoid the blame game. It’s better to respond with “I feel” statements that keep the focus on the issue at hand. An example is: “I feel angry when I’m alone, and you’re out with your friends.” Or, “I feel frustrated that the trash hasn’t been taken out yet.” This approach leads to better communication — and better results — by honoring the feelings of your partner without putting them down.
3. Stick to One Argument at a Time
Sometimes an argument that starts on one topic doesn’t stay on the same theme. Before you know it, a heated argument can veer in different directions, like a car that’s hit a patch of black ice on a wintery day. Beware of slippery road conditions in your relationship and stick to one argument at a time. If you move away from the one simple idea, the argument will be lost in a fog of related but unnecessary issues. Your ability to solve one problem will get lost in the shuffle of trying to solve many problems, causing an argument to go nowhere. Couples who stick to one argument have a much better chance of finding one solution. With an attitude of patience and understanding, each partner has time to process their feelings and reach a solution before changing the subject.
4. Communication is Key
You’ve heard it so many times it may sound like a broken record. But it still holds true: Healthy communication between partners is the bedrock of any successful relationship. What are examples of healthy communication? It includes active listening, making eye contact and giving your partner your full attention as they speak, and responding appropriately. It’s about maintaining a conversational tone and keeping your body language respectful, engaged, and open. It uses “I” statements that express feelings instead of assigning blame. And it’s the willingness to acknowledge when you’re wrong. By adding all these ingredients, you have the recipe for a relationship that can be your bedrock for love and harmony.
5. Stay Open-Minded
Among conflict resolution techniques for couples, remaining open-minded during disagreements increases the odds of finding a peaceful resolution. It’s easy to get caught up on your side of an argument, but it shuts down your ability to be flexible and understand your partner’s concerns. Instead, couples need to set their egos aside and remain objective, considering both sides of the coin without bias or personal gain. By doing so, it opens the door for a reasonable discussion and the opportunity to understand and accept your partner’s viewpoint. When couples can be open-minded and objective, they are well-suited to handle the challenges life throws their way.
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff
A popular self-help book titled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson offers advice on how to not let little things bother you. Everyday annoyances and stresses can become a big problem for your relationship if you let them interfere with your ability to accomplish tasks and enjoy activities. The book reminds us that most things we worry and stress about don’t even matter. Carlson also advises readers to let go of their need for things to be perfect and try to accept and love things just as they are — in all of their imperfections. To keep things in perspective, he recommends developing compassion for other people and their problems, which frees you from obsessing about your own troubles. And if patience doesn’t come naturally to you, practice it by seeing if you can be patient for 10 minutes (and gradually build up the time you can keep your cool).
7. Assume your partner has good intentions
Your partner didn’t take the trash out again. They showed up late when you asked them to be on time. They didn’t respond to your text right away. Do you find yourself jumping to negative conclusions about your partner in situations like these, and react accordingly? It’s only natural to make assumptions about other people’s behavior, but it’s not exactly a way to promote harmony at home. Instead, take a breath and ask yourself, “What am I assuming here?” And, “is it time to reframe?” Reframing allows you to consider other possibilities after your mind conjures up a negative interpretation. Next, look for positive interpretations of your partner’s behavior, such as perhaps they’re just tired or aren’t paying attention. Better yet, if you’re not sure, then ask.
NU Believes Counseling Can Make a Difference
Whether you’re a newlywed or your marriage is well into its prime, counseling services that offer conflict resolution management can lead to extraordinary breakthroughs. National University is a firm believer in the benefits that counselors can offer to their communities, and its Marriage and Family Therapy program (MFT) is the perfect way to gain industry knowledge while preparing you for practice. The online MFT program gives you an in-depth perspective to help others navigate their life challenges and personal struggles.
Through interactive programs, case studies, and quality training experiences, you’ll develop a wealth of thinking and research skills that you can extend to your clients, ultimately helping them lead better lives. Plus, NU offers the first distance-based program to receive certification from the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), which means you can trust that your education encompasses the latest techniques and practices.