Being in a relationship isn’t always easy. There are times when we may have conflicts with our partners. Rest assured, disagreements are an expected and normal occurrence within relationships. During the more difficult times, it’s especially important to have good communication with our partner. There are healthy approaches to communicate during conflict that we can use. But what exactly does that look like?
Relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, believes that a significant indicator of a lasting relationship is based on how couples navigate conflict. Gottman indicates “The Four Horsemen,” or four conflict styles to look out for are: being critical, mean-spirited, defensive, or silent. Here are our four tips for effectively dealing with conflict in a relationship, so that we don’t use those unhelpful communication styles:
Practice Having Empathy
If you are sometimes critical when communicating with your partner, take the time to try to understand their point of view. When we are critical, it can come off as a personal attack, with statements like “You always do this.” or “You never do that.” Instead of using accusatory language, we can can practice empathy by taking the time to really listen and consider our partner’s concerns. We may not immediately understand their point of view. But meeting them with empathy, rather than criticism, will help us through it.
Be Respectful During Conflict
If you tend to be mean-spirited, with hurtful or disrespectful language during conflict, practice using more respectful language and tone when communicating with your partner. Even in tense times of disagreement, it’s never okay or helpful to lash out. We can communicate what is upsetting us while still being respectful to one another.
Listen to Their Concerns
If you tend to be more defensive when you’re in a conflict with your partner, you may find yourself lashing out in response to criticism or signaling to your partner that their concerns don’t matter. Instead of immediately being defensive, it’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street. Take some time to listen to your partner’s concerns for what they are and working through it with them, rather than deflecting.
Fully Talk it Out
If you gravitate towards giving the silent treatment or completely shutting down during conflict, it can be difficult to resolve conflict or communicate during conflict at all. Gottman calls this “stonewalling.” While it’s okay to take some time to think through things and cool off from a disagreement, staying silent or avoiding the issue entirely is almost never effective. When communicating with our partner, it’s important to have the tough conversations in order to cultivate a more harmonious bond. Make sure you both fully address what is on your mind and work through it together.