Healthy Conflict

In the early stages of a relationship, we may think our partner can do no wrong. At some point, however, disagreements become inevitable–whether over money, in-laws, intimacy, child rearing, or other issues. While you may not enjoy conflict, you can learn to argue constructively. Couples who “fight fair” ultimately have stronger, longer lasting relationships. Through healthy conflict, couples freely explore and talk about their issues, rather than bury them. Open discussion can generate workable solutions.

Consider the following suggestions if you want to have more productive discussions:

  • Find a good time. The moment your partner walks in the door after a long day at work, for example, might not be the best time for a discussion. Find a time, or schedule a time, that is most convenient for both of you.
  • Pay attention to body language. Make eye contact and use friendly gestures. Try not to clench your fists or cross your arms across your chest. If possible, sit on a couch together instead of on opposite sides of a table or a room.
  • State what’s bothering you . Be clear and specific. Start with statements that begin with “I” instead of “you” (e.g., “I would appreciate it if you would be quieter in the morning” instead of “You’re too noisy”).
  • Focus on your feelings. No one can argue with your feelings. “When you go out with your friends every night, I feel lonely and ignored.”
  • Listen. Let your partner speak without interrupting. Be sure you hear and understand correctly. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes before responding. How do you think he or she views the situation?
  • Negotiate. Try to find solutions which meet both of your needs. You may be able to come up with several potential solutions, if you take time to “brainstorm.” If not, you might just “agree to disagree.”
  • Take a break. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, or if one of you raises your voice, take a “time out” for a few minutes or hours, as needed.
  • Remember why you like each other. What brought you together in the first place? List some of your partner’s positive qualities. Schedule time to spend together on a regular basis. You may be less likely to argue, and when you do, chances are it will be gentler.