11 Actions to Fix Conflict in Relationships

01/15/2017 01:03 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2017
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We all know relationships take work, but rarely can we imagine just how much work they require. A solid relationship can take years to build and minutes to break. Frustrations accumulate and people quickly reach boiling points. In such moments, words alone can do irreversible damage.

The most critical part of any fight is the way you make up: What’s the resolution, and who’s benefiting from it? It’s unrealistic to think that your relationship won’t be subject to any sort of conflict. The aim is to reach a level of understanding and compromise where petty feuds are evaded and long-standing arguments are swiftly settled.

The magic of most relationships breaks down over time. So what changed from the beginning to now, from when little things didn’t bother you to when everything became a big deal? Your thoughts.

Reducing discord in relationships begins by rearranging thoughts. Your brain functions from habit, meaning that it resorts to the same thoughts over and over again. When you think differently, you speak and act differently, which yields different results. Adopt these mental attitudes to counteract conflict in your relationship and carry out productive dialogue:

Responsibility, not blame. The first step to rebuilding a peaceful relationship is to assume responsibility for any role you might've played in bringing about a problem. It's easy to place the blame entirely on your partner, but faultfinding only increases anger and stagnancy. So instead of pointing fingers, peer within. Even if you did absolutely nothing wrong, consider what you can do to make things right from now on.

Meditation, not desperation. Often couples fight because one or both partners have become desperate: bickering arises from deep dissatisfactions that were never addressed. It’s essential to organize your thoughts and intentions before you open your mouth. Even if you feel you’re at your wit's end, sit down and take a deep breath. Imagine what would happen if you approached the situation one way versus if you approached it another way. Consider the best possible outcome in your mind. Close your eyes and see yourself having an honest conversation with your partner in which you both reach an agreement. Plan the points you will make. What can you say to make progress and inspire a positive conclusion?

Reception, not reaction. No one initiates an argument to hear the other person’s viewpoints. They do so to get their own points across. Our first instinct is to react right away when someone presents an argument: they make a claim, we make an opposite claim. Listen to your partner’s statements without forming an entire lecture in response. After all, it’s one thing is to hear and another to listen. In cases in which words can cause irreparable harm, silence is golden. Understanding what your mate really meant can take time; as you mull over their words, the true meaning will surface.

Present, not past. Start each day with a clean slate. Even if your partner messed up yesterday, there's no reason they can't mend their mistakes today and tomorrow. Focus not on what they’ve done, but on the opportunity to do the right things, right now. Yes, people can change, but you must first give them the chance.

Needs, not desires. Be clear about your needs, not your desires. You might crave a vacation with your loved one, but this is not a need; the real need is to spend time together. Reach the core of what you really want and reiterate it. Also understand what sacrifices will be needed from both you and your partner in order to repair damage that has been done. Remember that your significant other has needs from you, too.

Quality, not quantity. You don’t need a dozen meaningless talks to heal your relationship; you need one transformative conversation. The quality of communication, therefore, is key. You may have a tendency to bring up everything all at once when expressing to your partner how you feel. Stick to one area of concern. Don’t jump from subject to subject or concentrate on irrelevant matters that don’t pose serious problems. You will get to cover all the crucial elements in time, so start with the most important.

Intimacy, not influence. Keep your relationship private and guard your affairs between you. External influences are the weeds of a blossoming relationship and the wrong ones can devastate a perfectly good dynamic. Don’t hang up on your significant other only to call your friend and blab about the things your partner’s doing wrong. After all, it’s you two who are in a relationship, not your friend, sibling, parent, or any other party. No one needs to intervene. Promise to put each other first and filter your environment of negative influences.

Reality, not perfection. The love we want to receive may differ from the love we actually receive. Why is that? Because people are far from perfect. They won’t always give us what we want, they’ll give us what they can. Not everyone is capable of extending unconditional love, patience, and tolerance. Some people can barely tolerate themselves, let alone another person. While you should never lower your expectations or settle for less than what you deserve, you should acknowledge your partner’s limitations and recognize their true capacity. Maybe they’re already giving you everything they can.

Literally, not personally. The way your mate treats you says much more about him or her than it says about you. When we care about a person, we become overly sensitive to the things they say and do. We can distort their intentions and make ourselves believe bad things they didn’t even mean. Your partner may be going through things you can’t comprehend—mentally, emotionally, or physically. So take nothing personally.

Source, not consequence. Dig down to the first rotten seed of your relationship: when and why did the fighting start? Say you’ve been arguing about the lack of time you spend together. Consider the source of the problem instead of the repercussions. The origin might be your partner’s demanding job, while the consequence is that he missed your birthday. In this example, arguing about the missed birthday won’t stop the problem from happening again. But strategizing how your partner can modify his schedule or take a few days off, will. Remember that consequences won’t change if the source doesn’t.

Resolutions, not conclusions. Quick are we to jump to conclusions. When something goes wrong, we automatically assume the worst and analyze every part of our partner’s actions. This kind of compulsive behavior only drives dispute into the relationship. When your significant other says something, simply believe it. Take their words to be the truth according to them, eliminating the ifs, ands, or buts. Even if their excuse isn’t to your satisfaction, respect that this is their honest explanation. Skip the would’ve, should’ve, could’ve, and ask, “So, how do we fix this?” Offer your possible solutions then invite your partner to provide input.

Alter your attitude to reshape your relationship. Recurring conflicts can be resolved once and for all by banishing old emotional habits and shifting reactions to reflect understanding.

To conflict-free relationships,

Dr. Carmen Harra

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