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When too much has been said in heated exchanges, many couples experience the dreaded awareness that things have really gotten out of hand. They feel contrite and yet there is a residue of hurt at some particular slight delivered by their partner. The urge to apologise and make up is tempered by the determination not to be seen to be the one who appears weak in the relationship.
One Issue at a Time
Things get out of hand in relationship conflict when we jump from one issue to another totally unconnected the original fight. We jump heatedly in discussion for instance from adherence to the monthly budget to our partner’s mother coming to stay for Christmas. Now we have two problems instead of one. For many couples it is a sound principle to stick to the original issue and allow each other the space, respect and time to speak.
Express your Feelings – “I” Statements
Many relationship conflicts can be resolved if we clearly express our feelings and take responsibility for them. By using “I” statements we can communicate what we mean to our partner without blaming, undermining or making him/her feel inadequate. For instance we might usually say:
“You make me angry because you never call when you’re away on business.”
‘I’ Statement: “I feel concerned when you forget to call me when away on business because I worry that you’re ok.”
Usual: “You always put your friends before me. You don’t care!”
‘I’ Statement: I feel hurt when you don’t include me more in your friendships because it seems you don’t enjoy spending time with me.
Sometimes arguments appear to be won by the one who shouts the loudest but in reality the situation only gets worse. If we feel abused, undermined, or disrespected by our partner, we in turn lose respect for that partner and sometimes harbour resentment towards him/ her. To prevent this happening within our relationship it’s important to focus on the issue, not your partner. Character attacks only inflame the problem leading to counter attacks and further negativity. When exchanges become heated many couples take a break, calm down and reaffirm that’s it’s the relationship problem, and not the personality that needs to be addressed here.
Avoid the Pitfalls
When couples honestly reflect on heated relationship conflicts they invariably regret certain words, comments and hostile assertions they have made. Such violations frequently diminish the aggressor more than the victim. To avoid the pitfalls of lasting hurt and resentment couples need to voice together their firm resolution within relationship conflict to rule out yelling, psychological and emotional abuse, criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Appreciate Your Partner’s Perspective – Time Out
Many couples who take a time out and stand back from heated conflict have the opportunity to affirm their love and respect for one another while acknowledging there remains a difficult area of contention. This sense of shared concern about the problematic issue can facilitate greater understanding of each other’s point of view and a desire to reach a compromise position.
Draw up with your partner a set of conflict guidelines by which you can live your relationship! List the areas you will both specifically rule out as inappropriate forms of dealing with relationship conflict!
Create “I” Statements around the following scenarios!
Your partner’s best friend keeps calling to your house at regular and inconvenient intervals. The best friend then invites your partner to join him/her for drinks locally. You are feeling excluded and hurt.
Without consulting you your partner frequently spends money from your shared account on retail goods not related to the agreed household budget. You are feeling angry and taken for granted.