Love is saying “I feel differently” instead of “you’re wrong.”
Constructive conflict management begins with the development of six skills: Soften Startup, Accept Influence, Make Effective Repairs During Conflict, De-escalate, Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner, and Compromise.
No one learns these skills overnight. It takes practice, and sometimes you need to build up to having effective communication in your partnership. Here are the small steps it takes to master conflict management.
Soften the start of your conversation
How a partner raises an issue in the first three minutes of the conversation is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. If most of your arguments start softly, your relationship is far more likely to be stable and happy.
Complain but don’t blame
No matter how “at fault” you think your partner is, approaching them with criticisms and accusations is not productive. It’s all about approach.
Instead of blaming your partner with “You said you would clean the backyard today and it’s still a mess,” try a simple complaint: “Hey, there are still some fallen leaves in the gutter and tennis balls everywhere. We agreed you’d rake and clean up after Buster. I’m really upset about this.”
Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You”
When you start sentences with “I,” you are less likely to seem critical, immediately putting your partner into a defensive position. Instead of saying “You are not listening to me,” you can say, “I don’t feel like heard right now.” Instead of “You’re so careless with money,” say, “I think that we should try to save more.”
Focus on how you’re feeling, not on accusing your partner. Both of you will likely feel that you are hearing and understanding each other more.
Describe what is happening, but don’t judge
Instead of accusing or blaming your partner, simply describe what you see in the situation. Though you may be at the end of your rope, keeping yourself in check will be worth it in the end. Instead of “You never watch our kids,” try saying, “I’m really exhausted. Could you help out with the kids?”
Your partner is more likely to consider your point of view and deliver the results you are hoping for with this approach. Be clear. No matter how long you’ve been together, you cannot expect them to read your mind.
Be polite and appreciative
Just because you are in conflict with your partner does not mean that your respect and affection for them diminished. Adding phrases such as “please” and “I appreciate it when you…” can be helpful in maintaining warmth and emotional connection even during a difficult conversation.
Don’t store things up
When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, one issue leads to another, and you can suddenly find yourself bringing up a laundry list of issues that feel related, but really are not to your partner. The solution is: don’t wait to bring up an issue with your partner. Your conflict discussions will be far more productive when you don’t allow the situation to escalate.
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Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.