In any couple relationship there are going to be inevitable differences that can lead to misunderstandings, frustrations and differences. It is not unusual for situations to become stuck as each of you become increasingly exasperated and upset. Instead of exploring what may be fuelling each other’s frustrations each partner may try harder to convince the other why their way of seeing things or wishes are right resulting in a win/lose scenario which is not helpful. Learning how to navigate differences of opinions, wishes, values, beliefs and especially misunderstandings, frustrations and disappointments of each other is key to a flourishing couple relationship.
Responses to conflict
Our response to conflict tends to be shaped from our experiences of it growing up as a child. If you were bought up in a family where difficult feelings such as anger or being upset were not encouraged and conflict avoided you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable expressing feelings and wishes to your partner, and feel uneasy when they express anger or get upset. If however you were bought up in a family where conflict usually became a win/lose scenario with the person who shouts the loudest getting their way then you might find yourself behaving that way with your partner. Relationship conflict can trigger powerful and difficult feelings resulting in either resentful compliance, withdrawal and silence, or blaming, shaming and guilt tripping your partner to get you own way. Whilst these are understandable responses for coping with feelings that are triggered by conflict such as anxiety, they are not helpful for your relationship in the long term.
It can be helpful for partners to reflect on what they may have learnt about conflict from their childhood and how this might throw some light into how they behave around conflict in their relationship.
It can also be helpful for partners to discuss what they both consider helpful and unhelpful ways of behaving when one or both of become angry or upset. For example it may not be helpful to storm out of the room/house slamming the door as you go without letting your partner know where you are going and when you might be back, but it may be acceptable for one of you to say that you need some ‘time out’ from the escalating situation with an agreement of when you can revisit the dilemma.
When faced with decisions or situations that bring up differences in values, beliefs or wishes it can be helpful to become curious about your differences first to help in navigating what you are facing.
Learning skills for healthy relationship conflict
Navigating conflict means being able to have conversations where both partners can clearly express their feelings, values, beliefs, opinions and wishes to each other. It is often not easy to listen with an open and curious mind to your partner expressing their way of seeing a situation, especially if what they say may be difficult for you to hear. Having the skills for navigating conflict enables partners to learn about each other, what is important to each of them and why, and from this a way forward can be navigated rather than a solution or resolution that is more like sticking a band aid on more fundamental issues. . This builds a couple relationship where both partners values, beliefs, and wishes are taken account of which is important for mutual fulfilment and satisfaction. I can support both partners to develop effective communication skills for the dilemma/s they bring to couple therapy which will also be skills they can use individually and collectively ongoing.