Last time, we talked about how during the honeymoon phase a couple may maintain their relationship by viewing each other as well as their relationship positively, by giving out to their significant other generously, by expressing gratitude to their partner often, and by praying for the wellbeing of their lover.
This week, I will share with you the tactics we can adopt when we encounter the down sides of our relationship, i.e. when a relational conflict arises, so as to secure our precious relationship.
Now, let’s think back the time when a conflict appears.
We argue with our partner over something we disagree with. “Is it your fault or mine?” With the uprising anger, we start to murmur deep down and blame the other person, “Why don’t you just get it?”, “What’s all the fussy tone about?”, “Is it really so hard to just say that you’re sorry?”, “Can’t you just consider my feelings for this one time?”….
Apart from the rage we feel inside, both individuals are also experiencing immense discouragement, disappointment, and frustration. Both of us are thinking why the other person fail to resonate with our feelings and show compassion toward our emotions.
The level of discouragement and fury continue to go up, followed by an increasing sense of doubt. We start to suspect the loveliness of this relationship, and wonder, “Is he/she really the right person for me? Am I taking this relationship too seriously?”
If the couple fails to change their behaviors, perspectives, tone of voice, and emotions at this point of time, this sense of doubt will begin to penetrate their minds, and eventually become the last straw that breaks the camel's back. They may make an irrevocable decision under this sense of doubt or say something that cause great harm to the other person, leaving them with remorse afterwards.
So, how should we deal with the conflicts in our relationships?
Is it true that a relationship without fights and quarrels is the best relationship? If that is the case, then we should all be fantasizing our life as those in soap operas. In fact, to this day, many clinical researches regarding intimate relationship have shown that the key factor leading to the success or failure of a relationship lies in how a couple tackles their conflicts and disagreements.
In the following paragraphs, I outline three effective approaches to help you get through your relational disputes.
How to Maintain a Relationship during the Conflict Phase?
I. Blame Not, but Communicate
As we have discussed earlier in the conflict scenario, when two people squabble over an issue, their mind tend to be filled with negative thoughts and emotions that drive them toward harmful behaviors for the relationship.
Rusbult and her colleagues (1982) distinguish four behavioral patterns people tend to adopt during relational conflicts, which include the active and passive styles that may both be healthy or unhealthy. First, let’s talk about two forms of unhealthy behaviors:
- Temporarily escape or leave the relationship permanently:
Some people are prone to use the silent treatment when they experience a conflict in their relationship, which is a form of refusal to communicate with the other person. Some may not really leave the relationship but may instead threaten their partner by creating within their partner a sense of fear that they are leaving the relationship. Although this way of conflict management is considered an active one, it is in truth quite negative and harmful to the relationship.
- Ignore or accuse one’s partner:
Rather than directly walking away from their partner, some people favor a more passive approach to deal with their relational conflicts. They will usually ignore the differences or problems to be dealt with and start blaming their partner instead. Some people may even go to the extent where they defend themselves by bringing up some other issues from the past or things done by their partner. They argue that their partner is solely responsible for all the unpleasantries.
These two models of tackling with relationship conflicts are active and passive in their own ways.
Now, let’s look at two other constructive forms of managing relational frictions.
- Communicate with passion and listen in deep concentration:
When a couple quarrel over something, it is very normal that they want to disconnect or disengage from the conversation. At this moment, you must try to calm yourselves down, and should notify your partner that you need a time-out for the time being. Yet, do come back for a more constructive discourse once you feel ready. During your time-out, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. “Why did he/she do that or say something like that?”
Communicate in a manner that encourages mutual conversation and speak in soft tones without criticizing the other person but rather articulate your true feelings. For instance, you may want to say, “When you said xxx earlier, I felt hurt by your words, but when I think about it, I also said xxx that must have made you feel sad.” When the two of you can start to empathize each other, you are also welcoming the opportunity to restore your relationship.
- Remain faithful to the relationship:
What should we do when a problem remains hard to be fixed in our relationship and is not really the fault of either one of us? Well, my friend, there is no better way than simply staying committed to the relationship. Be the trustworthy company of each other so that both of you may learn the ways and try to adjust yourselves during the healing and waiting process.
II. Forget What is Behind and Strain Toward What is Ahead
No matter how hard you have tried to bear down the rules of constructive communication, it is still often the case that you and/or your partner relinquish your anger and let it grab hold of your interactions. That seems to be the case? Then forget what is behind and strain toward what it ahead!
Acknowledging our negative emotions and learning to forgive your partner based on the fact that you know how hard it is to avoid being all that emotional is one true lesson we must all learn. Only when we are able to let go off the mistakes made by our partner can we both embrace a new chapter to our relationship. Psychologists have also found that although it seems that we are at a disadvantage when we forgive our partner, the truth is that we will feel a great sense of happiness and content when we do so (Fincham, Beach, & Davila, 2004).
III. Lay Down Your Prides, and Let Your Partner
“Hey, I want to go shopping. Let’s go!” “But I am just so strained out for the week, can’t we just stay home today?” “You’re always like this!” Are you familiar with this kind of trivial fights?
Sometimes, and usually most of the times, there really is no one to blame for a friction in the relationship. The dissensions we experience are merely a reflection of our differences in opinions, living habits, interests, likes and dislikes, needs, and etc. What is your reaction toward these differences though?
Whether you act as the more dominant or submissive role in the relationship, I suggest laying down your prides sometimes and let your partner take the lead. Comparing it to a waltz dance, both of you have to follow the rhythm of the other person so that the dance turns out to be a dance.
Many studies have discovered that when we are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of our partner, we are not only expressing our love for them but are also letting ourselves to enjoy the relationship more. Interesting, right? Besides, as that said in the Bible, “Love is not self-seeking”, consider this kind of self-sacrifice a way to learn deeper the meaning of love as well as how it feels to be loved.
Do you feel a bit wiser and more confident in facing your relational conflicts now? Next time, when an argument arises, let’s do it the softer and gentler way, shall we?
- Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R., & Davila, J. (2004). Forgiveness and conflict resolution in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 72-81. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3126.96.36.199
- Rusbult, C. E., Zembrodt, M., & Gunn, L. K. (1982). Exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect: Responses to dissatisfaction in romantic involvements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1230-1242. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.520