Helping Couples Heal
Conflict Is a Given
If you’ve been in a romantic relationship for any length of time, then you know that some degree of conflict is a given. The issue isn’t whether or not there is conflict, but how it is managed when it inevitably occurs. Managing conflict as a couple is an important step to healing and growth.
According to renowned relationship experts John and Julie Gottman, 69% of the problems that arise between couples are not solvable. The Gottmans call these “perpetual problems,” and they are based on fundamental, core differences. For example, you may be a morning person, while your partner is a night owl, or you love Italian food, but your partner hates tomatoes. No matter how long you are together, these core traits are not likely to change. But that’s okay.
Recognizing the difference between solvable problems and perpetual problems is the first step in helping high-conflict couples learn to more effectively manage the areas of difficulty between them.
Solvable problems can be managed by altering behaviors and improving communication. From housekeeping to yard work to sex to in-laws to work/life balance, these are the issues where one or both of you can modify behaviors in a way that helps meet the needs of the other. In many cases, the behaviors don’t need to be drastically changed. Often it is just the attempt, the effort, to meet the other person halfway that alters the dynamic enough to effect change. Similarly, improving communication even to a small degree can often yield profound results.
Ground Rules Can Help Manage Conflict
One way couples can learn to navigate challenges is to agree to a set of ground rules. These can vary, but in general, the acronym HALT is useful. Never argue when one or the other of you is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. (Anger here is usually the hardest to avoid since it is often the driving emotion behind the problem. The key is to allow some time to pass before jumping into an argument, to allow your “thinking brain” to catch up to your “emotional brain.”)
Other ground rules that can be useful include:
- Be respectful. No name-calling, no unwanted physical contact, no insults. The goal is to solve the problem, not to annihilate the other person.
- Instead of raising your voice, try lowering your voice.
- Take a time-out if you need it. If things get too heated, take a break.
- Get help if you need it. Often a couples’ therapist can provide you with relational tools that can help.
Finally, understand that the skills you need to be successful in relationships can be learned. Maybe you never had a strong, healthy, loving relationship modeled for you as a child. That’s okay. It’s never too late to learn how managing conflict as a couple can create positive effects in your relationship.
If you’d like to discuss your relationship, click here to schedule your appointment with Nancy Rosenberg