Managing Conflict: Key Points

Good Signs to Look for During Conflict

We know from Drs. John & Julie Gottman’s research that the most important attitudes are:

  • Being willing to listen to your partner’s ideas and feelings without criticism and defensiveness
  • Remembering that each partner has his or her own perspectives and that is normal
  • Not escalating the conflict, even when things get negative

It is not about who is right, it is about respecting each person’s position and being willing to consider that position. This goes a long way in helping conflicts not escalate. You don’t have to agree on the matter, far more important is respect for each other’s position.

What To Expect in Conflict

Conflict actually provides an opportunity for intimacy and closeness in a relationship. When each partner expresses what is important and what they need, then out of conflict comes a deeper knowledge and understanding of your partner, and an opportunity to turn toward the partner.

The Difference Between Repair and Apologizing

The Gottman’s research informs us that to trust our partner, we have to feel that partner has our best interests at heart and we can count on that partner.

Keith Sanford at Baylor University found that many couples didn’t seem to care much about apologies after a fight or argument. When asked an open-ended question about what they hoped their partner would do, people were unlikely to say they wanted to hear the words “I’m sorry.”

Why Apologies Are Not Enough?

Why wouldn’t partners want to hear “I’m sorry”? Well, as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. While apologies may not be enough, repairing arguments and hurts is essential in healthy couple relationships.

The key seems to be acknowledging our partners feelings about the incident. This tends to be more effective than saying you are sorry. Re-stating your partner’s hurt or angry feelings and WHY he or she has those feelings is a very powerful repair for damaged feelings and hurts.

Something like this really helps when apologizing: “I can understand why you were so angry at me, you felt ignored. What you needed was for me to take time to listen to your concerns. Right?” When we feel our pain or upset is acknowledged, then it becomes much easier to let it go.

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for “I’m sorry”. But when you add, “I am sorry because I was short with you and that hurt your feelings”, that increases the power of “I’m sorry”.

Don’t Apologize for This Reason

Yes, it’s a very bad idea to say, “You are right”, just to end the argument. It is much better to say something like: “We have very different ideas about this, it’s not about who is right, it simply means we have different perspectives”.

The Gottmans emphasize the concept of “subjective realities”. Essentially, in successful relationships partners hold an attitude of” We are both right.”

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