Here we are at the beginning of spring and are asked to shelter in place with partners and families 24/7, something we seldom ever do. For some, it will seem like a blessing, a time to celebrate their relationship and become even closer emotionally. For others, it can seem like a curse with increasing conflicts, pressure, and frustrations.
I’m hearing about such from clients and peers. I am hearing from my clients, peers, and colleagues about their struggles. It is reported that China is seeing a rise in divorce filings as couples emerge from their long quarantine. In reality, conflict doesn’t always have to mean things are bad. Handled properly, it can lead to better understanding and deeper emotional ties.
So, let’s talk a bit about how to successfully deal with conflicts.
The keys to a successful, long-term relationship are empathy, validation, and good will. If your partner says and believes that the moon is made of cream cheese, and you know that it obviously isn’t, instead of criticizing them try validating the world from “their” point of view. Try to see their thoughts through their eyes and hear it from their point of view, not yours. Don’t criticize, interrupt, interpret or judge. Be quiet and listen.
When you expect something from your partner, discuss it with them. Don’t think they’re a mind reader. This happens often, even with couples who’ve been together a long time and think, “They know me so well, I shouldn’t have to tell him what I need or want.” Assume that your partner doesn’t know what you want even if you have shared it with them repeatedly.
Here are some tips to remember when you’re trying to smooth over a conflict:
Avoid overstatement. I advise couples never to begin a sentence with, “You always say that…,” or “You never do this….” That's making a blanket statement that excludes even the one exception to the rule you’re trying to lay down. When you’re angry it feels good to utter such sweeping judgments, but they do nothing for your relationship. Instead, qualify and leave your partner an escape hatch: “For the most part…,” or “Mostly…,” or “More than I like….” Then you’re giving credit where it’s due, acknowledging the (admittedly few) times your partner might have said or done whatever you’re accusing them of.
Never say, “I shouldn’t have to ask.” Yes, you should . In any relationship, you must ask for what you want. In therapy this is sometimes called symbiosis, that is thinking that your partner thinks and feels just like you do and should “just know.” They may have been that intuitive during the romance stage, but that’s because of the all love hormones and because you were closely tracking each other. The purpose of all that was to bond you together, not set the entire tone for your relationship. If you expect it to, you’ll be disappointed.
Intentional dialogue. Harville Hendrix’s Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) model creates a safe container for effective communication. Called Intentional Dialogue, it breaks down the idea that your partner should see the world the way you want him to and vice versa. I use it with every set of partners. It emphasizes mirroring, validation, and empathy. Most couples engage in monologues, not dialogues, so this offers a realistic, valid way to communicate.