Relationships are often veritable sources of happiness and relief, but they also cause stress from time to time. One of the biggest causes of stress in relationships is conflict. The following factors usually result in some degree of conflict in a relationship:
- Differing values. Perhaps you grew up in a caring household that emphasized the importance of family, but your partner grew up in the exact opposite environment. As a result, you may value family more, enjoy going to family gatherings, and put your family before anything else. Your partner, on the other hand, may not have the warm and fuzzy memories of familial relationships and consider them second to other things in life (work, friends, etc.). Conflict can result if the two of you have a disagreement where your values clash, such as where to spend vacation in the summer.
- Differing expectations. We often expect others to be able to read our minds when it comes to how we’re feeling. Susie comes home late one day, tired and frustrated from a hard day’s work. All she wants is a nice glass of wine and a hot shower. But when she steps into her house, she sees that John hasn’t fed or put the kids to bed, because he thought it would be nice to have a family dinner together. Susie feels angry at John for not knowing how tired she is, even though he has no way of knowing what her work day was like. She snaps at him and the kids at dinner, causing them to get into an argument. When we expect others to know how we’re feeling simply because they know us, we increase the risk for misunderstanding and conflict.
- Making assumptions. Communication is key to any relationship, so when two people don’t talk to one another, they may make assumptions that are damaging to the relationship or cause tension between each other. If one person assumes that the other person will walk the dog without checking with them first, conflict will occur when he comes home to find that the other person didn’t do what they were “supposed” to do. Not voicing concerns leads to constant miscommunication; it is almost always better to ask first than to assume first and ask later.
- How two people deal with conflict. Everyone deals with conflict and disagreements in different ways, but we often fall into the trap of thinking that our way of dealing with conflict is the right way. After having a disagreement, one partner may want to talk about the issue immediately, so that resentment and anger doesn’t grow over time. Meanwhile, the other partner would rather spend some time apart in order to cool down and reassess the situation. Partner A feels hurt and confused because it seems as though the other person is refusing to deal with the conflict and purposely ignoring them. Partner B feels frustrated because Partner A won’t give them their space. As a result, they have an even bigger fight, leading to increasing conflict.
How to deal with conflict in relationships:
- Don’t try to win the argument. When two people have a disagreement, it is important for each person to acknowledge that the other person’s opinion matters to them. The point of the disagreement is not to prove the other person wrong, it’s to reach a resolution and/or compromise that both people can agree with. If you’re bent on showing the other person how right you are, the conflict will escalate instead of being resolved.
- Don’t get personal. Avoid calling your partner names during a fight, swearing at them, or making a lot of accusations at once. This is not only immature and counterproductive, but it will make the other person not take you or your argument as seriously. No one reacts well when they feel as though they’re being attacked. Even if you disagree with your partner, attack the argument and not them.
- Know what you’re fighting for. All couples fight from time to time, but it’s important to keep in mind what you’re fighting for. If you realize that you’re fighting simply to win the argument and put your partner down, then immediately stop talking and take a couple minutes to cool down. It’s important to remember that you’re fighting not to make yourself feel better, but so that the two of you can better understand where each other is coming from and reach a compromise.
- Be specific about your wants and needs. Don’t assume that the other person knows exactly what you want or where you’re coming from. Avoid vague, general statements – they only only increase the conflict and make it harder to reach a resolution. Be honest about your source of anger/confusion/sadness but also voice your concerns in a way that is easy to follow. Rather than blurting out everything that’s been bothering you the past couple months, keep the argument focused on what started the fight in the first place.
- Set boundaries. Often, arguments will escalate to the point where a resolution or compromise does not seem possible at the present moment. After a certain point, if you can’t reach a conclusion or agree to disagree, ask the other person if the two of you can take a little bit of time to cool off and return to the issue later. This does not mean storming out in the middle of the fight and leaving the other person hanging. Instead, calmly inform the other person that you would prefer to talk about this when the both of you aren’t so angry. If possible, be specific about when that day will be. Say something such as, “Can we set aside some time to talk about this after I get home from work tomorrow? I want to discuss this further, but I don’t think we’ll be able to reach a resolution tonight. We’re both angry and I don’t want either of us to say something we might regret.”