Managing Conflict in Relationships

Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.
-Horace Mann

Drs. John and Julie Gottman are famous marriage researchers in the world of psychology and therapy. Both doctors have put in over four decades of research into the topic of relationships, marriage, conflict, and more. 

Conflict in relationships can leave a person feeling inept, frustrated, and angry. 
 “Dr. John Gottman’s Six Skills of Conflict Management” are helpful tools when dealing with conflict. They are outlined below.

1. Soften Startup
•    How an individual starts a discussion in the first few moments will make a difference on how the conflict will end. 
•    Ask yourself if you can be in a comfortable place when having your discussion.
•    If the conflict will be about a particularly inflammatory topic find some place relatively safe or neutral for the both of you. For example, don’t talk about money in your bedroom.  
•    When communicating in relationships, it is important to not attack, or blame the other individual. Try to communicate in the way that you would like to also be communicated with by the other person.   

2. Accept Influence
•    A person’s approach makes a significant impact on the outcome of the argument. Being able to try to see the circumstance from the other’s person perspective may help diffuse the conflict. 
•    Give your partner your full attention. Turn off or put down any distracting technology. Lean in towards your partner a little bit. Let your body language send a message of connection – especially if you are concerned that the topic may create distance initially.
•    Don’t interrupt! Stay focused, attentive, and connected. Even if you don’t particularly like or simply don’t agree with what is being said. Hang in there and keep your focus on the overarching goal of honest communication – a better relationship.

3. Make Effective Repairs During the Conflict
•    Make statements that start with these aspects in mind.
•    “I feel…scared/insulted/like you don’t understand.” 
•    “I need to calm down.”
•    “Let me try again.”
•    “I want to say this.”
•    “I really messed up.”
•    “I appreciate…”

4. De-escalate
•    Complain instead of blaming your spouse. For example:
•    Blame-“You never do what you say you are going to do.”
•    Complain-“The other day we agreed that this was your responsibility. It still isn’t done and I feel really upset about this.”
•    Blame- “You never do anything with the baby.”
•    Complain- “I feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Can you pick a couple things to do with the baby to help me out?”
•    Reflect back to your partner what you think your partner is saying. Check in with your partner to make sure you are hearing the overall message, not just the words. Say, “What I hear you saying is…” or “If I understand you correctly, than I think you feel…” This lets your partner know that you really care about the message being conveyed and that you are invested in making sure you heard it accurately. 

5. Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner
•    Use “I feel” statements instead of “you.” 
•    “I feel like we should make a budget.”
•    “I feel like you don’t care about me, when you don’t ask me about my day after work.”
•    “I feel like I don’t get your undivided attention when I am talking to you.”
•    Focus on your breathing. Make sure that you are breathing all the way in and all the way out. Breathe into your belly.
•    Stretch your neck, arms, and shoulders when you are feeling yourself getting upset.

6. Compromise 
•    Describe what you see in the situation and ask the other individual to also describe what they see. Continue to do that until you can come to a compromise that makes the both of you satisfied. 
•    If there’s a problem that you are trying to solve, communicate your ideas for solutions with tentativeness. 
•    “Well, perhaps we could try…”
•     “What if I did . . . and you did  . . .” 
•    “I’m stuck. What do you think we need to do next?”
•    Be polite and appreciate. Acknowledge ways that the other person is communicating in a helpful manner. 
•    Conflict does not mean that individuals cannot give compliments or use “please” and “thank you” during the conversation. Remember that being “right” isn’t what is important but becoming a better communicator, feeling validated, and creating a compromise that will help both of you feel heard. 
Improved communication leads to various areas of personal growth
•    Deeper emotional connection
•    Growth in empathy towards others
•    Confidence
•    Active listening skills
•    Get along better with others
•    Better boundaries
•    Ability to approach conflict in a calm manner

My hope is that you can take this information and utilize it in a way that applies to your relationships with friends, family, and significant others. Start small and find what works for you. Don’t be afraid of changing it to make it your own, but continue working on how to develop healthier communication patterns in your own life.