Conflicts, arguments, disagreements, those are all natural and most of the time inevitable when being in a relationship. While they are bound to happen at some point, that does not mean that they are bound to be awful, or destructive, or that it’s impossible to have a productive conversation around something that is causing tension between you and your partner. Oftentimes we are not understanding the other person’s point of view, maybe it’s because we are so stuck in our own perspective that it’s hard to understand a different one, or maybe we are lacking tools to communicate in a productive way. When those things happen, when you both are listening to respond instead of listening to understand, it becomes rather difficult to get to a place where you can compromise. It even can become almost impossible to reach a point where you both feel heard, understood, acknowledged, and validated. If you and your partner have experienced moments like that, you are not alone. Below are some tips and strategies to work on all communication, conflictual moments, and ways to be able to come to a compromise, without always feeling like you have to sacrifice something or give up what you believe.
One thing to keep in mind when having any sort of communication or conversation with your partner, whether conflictual or not, is to keep in mind our tone and body language. We as humans speak, pretty much, every day of our lives, so sometimes we’re not always aware of how impactful our tone can be or how the way we’re sitting or what we’re doing with our arms can come across. When we think about it though, when we notice someone else having a “snippy” tone or notice their eyes are looking off somewhere else rather than focused on us when speaking, we take offense to it, find it rude, or feel like they are not fully engaged in the conversation. Things like tone and body language are super important, especially when having more intense conversations.
One small important step you can take is to make sure all distractions are put away, phones are on Do Not Disturb, silent, or face down, and there is no TV or background noise. Make sure the attention is solely on the conversation at hand and whoever is speaking. Be aware of your body language, as both the speaker and the listener, both parts are equally important in all conversations. If you are the listener, make sure your eyes are on the speaker and that you’re using both non-verbal and verbal communication to show them you are actively paying attention to what they are saying. As the speaker, it’s important to have a tone that is not condescending, rude, aggressive, or does not place initial uncomfortable feelings in the conversation. It’s important to have our arms and body as relaxed as possible and make appropriate eye contact with the listener as well. All of these things, while seemingly small, can make a difference in communication and how a conversation goes.
When it comes to conversations that are about disagreements or surrounding conflict, it’s easy to get lost in the intensity of those feelings from both parties in the conversation. It’s important to view this as “you two versus whatever the problem/situation is,” rather than “you two against each other.” When your partner tells you something that is bothering them, it can sometimes be perceived as an attack on you; while that’s easy to make that assumption, that’s what it is: an assumption. It is more beneficial to challenge that initial assumption and view it as something that is so important to them that they felt the need to bring it up because of how it’s impacting them and the relationship as a whole. Sometimes our partner just needs to vent, and sometimes they want advice and help in navigating a situation; it’s important to clarify which one our partner needs before diving into either of those routes. Sometimes even just asking “do you need to vent or do you want advice” can save a conversation from going in a negative direction.
Once we’re in an argument or conflictual conversation, that’s where things can get even more difficult to navigate through. Again, there may be a lot of strong feelings and thoughts on both ends that both equally deserve to be heard and understood. As mentioned above, it’s important to make sure you’re both listening to fully understand what the other is trying to communicate rather than waiting for them to finish speaking so you can say what you’ve been waiting to say. Reflective listening, utilizing “I” statements, and taking timed breaks for conversations can all be great and helpful tools to make sure you and your partner both feel heard and acknowledged and are on the same page about what each of you are trying to say. Reflective listening allows for each of you to make sure you are understanding exactly what your partner is trying to say by reflecting back what they said in your own words. “I” statements are an easy and simple way to make sure you are not placing blame on one another or assigning feelings and thoughts to the other. And taking a timed 5-30 minute break when things become too heated in a conversation can be an effective way to make sure the conversation stays productive and doesn’t let emotions take over. Talk with your partner about these strategies and make a plan to use them if you both feel they could be beneficial in having more productive conversations.
Compromising can be the most difficult part of any conflict or argument. It’s hard for us to sometimes see anything other than the exact picture of what we have in our mind. It feels like in order to compromise or come to an agreement, we have to give up some part of us. While that can be true at times, it is not always necessarily the case. Sometimes compromising means just becoming more aware of what our true needs are, what we are willing to be flexible about and what we feel like are a part of our core values and beliefs. Trying to compromise with our partner can lead us to more understanding of one another. When you feel like you’re at a standstill with your partner and neither of you are willing to compromise, think about how much that something truly means to you, what it would do for you, and think about your partner's perspective and needs as well, as they might/probably are different than yours. Your needs and wants may adjust over time and that’s okay, but be open in communication with your partner and be open to seeing other perspectives, other ideas, and identify what truly matters to you and the relationship as a whole.
Emily Blair, ALMFT