Science says partner’s perception matters a ton after a fight.
How do you respond to conflict?
Do you lash out? Withdraw? Or maybe you respond in a more positive way by placing more importance on the resolution rather than being right.
It turns out that it REALLY does matter how conflict is handled in your romantic relationship and here’s why:
Scientists recently discovered that if you don’t resolve conflict in a constructive manner you unintentionally make the relationship suffer in ways that you wouldn’t imagine.
If conflict is not resolved, a negative climate resides in the relationship. This causes you and your partner to miss opportunities when the other is trying to reach out and reconnect.
You’re basically oblivious of the nice gestures because your perception of the other is still not so good.
Why this matters:
If you miss the sweet messages, you’ll continue to stew in resentment about how insensitive your partner is. AND on the flipside if your partner’s efforts are unnoticed eventually he/she will throw in the towel and stop trying.
Which will only hurt and quite possibly end the relationship.
How can you eliminate this unhelpful and harmful cycle?
First you both need to learn some basic fundamental skills of effective communication.
1. Keep the Defenses Low:
When you bring a concern to your partner, make it your goal to not elicit his defenses.
See the difference for yourself: “You never take me out anymore and I’m sick and tired of not feeling like I matter! You’re always choosing work over me!”
Versus: “Babe, I know that you’re putting in a lot of extra hours for our benefit and I want you to know how much I appreciate that. AND I miss you. I miss us. I miss the crazy way that only you can make me feel so special just by taking me out for a burger and beer. What do you say we just hit pause for a night and get back to us?”
It’s impossible for him/her to be defensive with that type of approach. You can spin any sort of complaint or request in the same fashion.
2. Feeling Validation:
I preach this skill nonstop because I feel if couples can master this seemingly simple yet surprisingly challenging skill, they move to the top tier of effective communication.
Basically, all you do is validate whatever your partner’s feeling or experiencing by your actions, behavior or choices.
Let me be clear, you’re not AGREEING with your partner that you’re intentionally being a dick, you’re simply saying:
“Damn that sucks that I (my actions or my choices) made you feel unimportant (not a priority). In all honesty, that was not my intent.”
Then stop talking. Seriously STOP!
So many do a rock star job up to this point and then they crash and burn with one word, BUT… Let your message linger.
What tends to happen 9 out of 10 times is your partner will feel so good about being validated that he or she will come back within minutes or maybe a few hours (depending on how he/she processes things) and then validate you by basically naming your “BUT Statement”.
“I know you don’t mean to make me feel that way. You have so much on your plate right now, it’s no wonder why you forgot, I’m sorry.”
3. Agree to Fighting Boundaries.
In this YouTube Video, Dr. John Gottman explains what he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and how toxic they are in a relationship.
If you see any of the horsemen in your relationship kick the negative communication style to the curb for your relationship’s sake.
4. Timeouts Are Your Friend.
Nothing can be resolved if your pulse rate get’s above 140 beats per minute. You literally loose all rationale at that point.
Rather than pushing through, call a 20-minute timeout. Use this time to sort through what you’re truly feeling underneath the anger. Once you have calmed down and can name your softer emotions go back to the table and share them with your partner.
As you can see there are ways to improve your communication abilities. By practicing these basic skills you’ll be able to work through the conflicts and reach a resolution.
This way your marital climate can warm back up and your perception can remain in tact. You’ll be able to pick up on the little bids of affection and other attempts by your partner to reconnect.
What to do when you can’t stop slinging mud?
There will be times when a conflict will arise at the worst possible moment. When this happens I guarantee that all skills will be thrown out the window. Don’t worry this is to be expected.
I consider myself to be a damn good relationship coach and even I fail to use these skills perfectly in my own marriage.
I can get to points in my own relationship where effective communication is like a foreign language. I think it’s important for couples to understand that no matter how great your intentions are, or how many awesome skills you know, you will mess up.
The great thing about relational conflict is that when you do slip up and forget to use nice words you know right away because you’ll feel that ache in your stomach after you storm off.
Simply figure out what’s truly bothering you. Are you over worked, stressed about one of your kids getting bullied at school, or feeling forgotten by your partner?
Once you drill down to what’s really going on you can reengage and have a “do over” conversation. Start by leading with your softer more honest emotions.
Whatever you do don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting perfection. You, your partner, and every expert out there are human. Show yourself and each other some grace when you or they mess up.
Just remember that practice makes improvements not perfection.
Jessica is the author of Back 2 Love and How to Start a Mental Health Private Practice. She owns a private practice in Minnesota where she lives with her husband and two kids. Join the conversation on Facebook.