In a previous article written for the Current in Carmel, I wrote about the 2 different types of conflict. Conflict is inevitable in all love relationships (if you disagree, let’s talk). This includes family, friends and, of course, longer-term dating and marriage.

As a couple, if you know something is going to happen – wouldn’t you like to be prepared to handle it the best way you could? You can! Here are 4 steps to managing conflict well:

Step 1: The Gentle Start-Up

Some couples can go from 0 to 100 very quickly. This is known as a “harsh start-up.” When we are unhappy, we are sometimes quick to criticize and blame our partner for the unhappy feeling. Instead, replace blame and criticism with these 3 statements:

  • “I feel _______________.”
    • Focus on yourself and what you are feeling, not on your partner.
  • “Because _______________.”
    • Describe the current situation rather than describing your partner.
      • Avoid “you” statements at all cost!
  • “I need _______________.”
    • State your positive need.
      • Try to avoid stating what you do not want/need.

Don’t: I am so mad at your for not doing the dishes – AGAIN – Stop being lazy and do them!

Do: (I am feeling) a little frustrated (because) the dishes are still in the sink (situation). Could the dishes possibly get done after dinner tonight? (Positive need)

Remember: It is OK to complain. It is not OK to criticize.

Step 2: Take Responsibility

If our partner has been considerate of his approach to a conflict discussion, it the responsibility of the receiving partner to respond accordingly.

  • Avoid playing the innocent victim
  • Try not to counter-attack and/or blame (remember, your partner is trying something different!)

Don’t: I did the dishes last night! Don’t put this on me. You always do this!! Unbelievable!

Do: You know, we did agree that I would do the dishes on (_______). I will do them once we are finished with dinner tonight. I’m sorry.

Remember: Taking responsibility even for just a percentage will allow for a healthy conflict discussion.

Step 3: Surround with Appreciation

Letting your partner know that she is loved and appreciated will allow a complaint to be heard with open ears and open heart. Focus on the positive things before and after you bring up a concern. You may find that the complaint is no longer present and there is no reason to bring it up!

Do: I have appreciated you doing the dishes so much last week. It was very nice of you to do them when it wasn’t your day.

Do: Thank you for doing the dishes when I brought it up. It means a lot.

Remember: “Sandwich” your discussions with fondness, admiration and appreciation before and even after a conflict has occurred.  

Step 4: Take a Break

Let’s face it… Sometimes the people we love the most know how to push our buttons. We have all been there (If you haven’t, let’s talk). Sometimes we are simply not in the right mind to have a constructive and productive conflict discussion and we become “flooded.” Before this begins, we need to do 4 things:

  • “Scan” your body and take responsibility when you are not in the right position to have a conflict discussion.
  • Ask your partner for at least 20-minutes to cool down and be more relaxed.
  • Both partners need to self-soothe and think about something else (instead of the current situation).
  • Reunite after enough time and try again. If you need more time (that is OK)

Don’t: “You’re starting to piss me off so you better leave me alone! Get out of my face!”

Don’t: “I know its 1:00am, but this is important – Don’t ignore me!” (sleep is vital!)

Do: “I am really feeling overwhelmed and I need a break. Can I have 20 minutes to cool down before we continue?”

Remember: It can take as long as 20 minutes to 2 hours for our bodies to handle a conflict discussion. Instead of ruminating or plotting your next rebuttal, take a relaxing bath, go for a run, read a book. Self-soothing is very important when we are flooded.

With these steps, you are well on your way towards becoming a “master” of relationships. Don’t be surprised when you and/or your partner fall back into old habits. This takes time and practice. While some may find it easy, others may find it very difficult – that is OK! Keep practicing with each other and watch your conversations and relationship change!

groffblackandwhiteLogan Everett is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Level 2 Trained using the Gottman Method Couples Therapy Model. His passion is to help couples in all walks of life. Contact logan by email or by calling 317-572-7411 or schedule an appointment.