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Resolving Relationship Conflict

Posted on April 21, 2015 at 8:35 AM

Resolving relationship conflict

Your partner has hurt you – and they’re also feeling hurt by you. You’re both feeling upset, saddened, anxious, angry, resentful, or pissed off with each other. A stalemate: neither of you are apologising or making amends. Attempts to talk about the problem, (when you’re not avoiding it, or each other) turn into blame exchanges, leaving you both feeling worse…

Here’s what you can try:

1. Schedule a date to talk. You’ll need time, space, and privacy.

2. Set up a structure, as well as roles, for your talk:

a. Prepare a list of grievances (using “I feel…” sentences) that are relevant to the current issue before your scheduled talk

b. Take turns being the speaker, then the listener, and decide who will go first

c. The speakers role is to stay on the agenda (i.e., the current issue), discuss your grievances as calmly as possible, use “I feel…” sentences, avoid the urge to blame, and finish speaking when you have communicated your grievances

d. The listeners role is to listen (as attentively as possible), to resist the urge to defend yourself, counter-attack, blame, or run, and to then apologise, as sincerely as possible. Remember that you cannot argue how someone feels – that’s their experience. It’s possible that they are thinking somewhat unrealistically, but their emotions are real for them. Be mindful that you are both hurt, so your ability to have empathy towards each other is diminished. Perhaps, pretend that you’re hearing about how someone else made your partner feel in order for you to feel compassion towards their emotions and experience.

e. After taking turns, focus on practical measures you can each put into place (e.g., scheduling another time for further discussion, making changes to your routine, division of house-work, coping strategies, communication styles…).

3. Evaluate the process for you individually, consider:

a. Did you communicate what you wanted to discuss?

b. How well did you feel listened to?

c. How well did you listen?

d. Do you think your partner’s grievances were valid?

e. Are you okay with the outcomes?

f. What do you need to do differently?

Disclaimer:  If ongoing conflict or disharmony has become the norm in your relationship, then seeking couples counselling (and committing to it – and acknowledging that it will likely take time…) is advised. This article outlines helpful strategies, but concedes that different approaches work for different people, and does not claim any guarantees, and does not aim to replace professional assistance.

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