Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. The strongest, happiest couples are those who have learned to deal with resolvable conflicts in a healthy manner. The key word here is resolvable, about two thirds of relationship conflicts are unresolvable, according to the Gottman Institute.
What makes a conflict resolvable?
Resolvable conflicts tend to be specific and situational. If your partner has forgotten to put the bins out for 3 weeks in a row, and the rubbish is overflowing and attracting flies… that’s undoubtedly frustrating, but resolvable. Or, you could be busy with work and your partner feels like you’re not spending enough quality time together. Resolvable.
Unresolvable problems are rooted in our basic personality traits, values and identities. These will never, ever go away. You choose your unresolvable conflicts when you choose your partner. That being said, in the healthiest relationships, couples can learn to establish a continuing dialogue about them.
The happiest people in relationships recognise resolvable conflicts, and deal with them in the following ways:
Don’t avoid arguments
Resolvable conflicts should be resolved. When there’s an issue, couples that stay together long-term don’t avoid the necessary, often uncomfortable conversations that need to be had. When you avoid conflicts, the issue can fester in your mind until it reaches a breaking point. Of course, there’s a right place and a right time. Usually the right time is in the moment, but not always - say, if your partner had an especially stressful day.
The way you start an argument tends to determine its outcome. If you go in with hostility and anger, the argument is likely to be hostile and angry. If you start from a place of love and respect, working through conflicts can help bring you closer together.
Hate the act, love the actor
No matter how much anger, frustration, or sadness you feel; it’s important to direct that energy to dealing with the matter at hand, rather than labelling your partner. It should go without saying, name-calling is not productive.
Listen to understand, not reply
Instead of thinking about your response, pay attention to your partner and listen intently to what they are saying. Don’t interrupt. Use your words first to acknowledge what they have said, before you reply.
Compromise gets a bad rap, but it’s the only way to resolve a conflict. Compromise is two people who want to find a solution working to find one together, it’s not one person making a sacrifice for the sake of the relationship. It’s you and your partner, against the problem.
Apologise, and repair
No one feels good after a fight. If there is something you didn’t handle well, if your partner is upset - say sorry in the way you know they will understand. Find a way to make it up to them. If it’s a fight about not spending enough quality time together, you could suggest a holiday (make sure you definitely won’t need to cancel).
Pay attention to recurring arguments
If an argument keeps on coming up, it may be unresolvable. Consider whether this is a fundamental difference in personalities and values. If that’s the case, both parties need to acknowledge that the conflict will never go away, but you can actively work to prevent conflict by keeping lines of communication open.
"Conflict in close relationships is not only inevitable, it’s essential. Intimacy connects people who are inevitably different."