Your relationship with your spouse or partner is probably something you cherish. When you cherish something, you tend to take care of it. It's high on your priority list. You spend time enjoying it.
It makes you feel happy, complete, and satisfied. You even experience physical benefits when your relationship is healthy.
But what if there are problems?
What if conflict—big and small—keeps popping up? What if it always seems to be about the same issues and it’s wearing on you?
Shouldn’t you be able to resolve all problems if your marriage is stable?
Believe it or not, that’s actually a mistaken view. Conflict is an unavoidable part of a committed relationship—even a healthy one. It’s not the presence of problems that puts stress on your marriage, it’s how you respond to it and manage the issues.
When you work through conflict as equals, it can actually strengthen your connection rather than exhaust you from endless rounds of fighting.
The Skills You Need to Deal with Conflict
Effective management of problems in your marriage requires sharing, compromising, and negotiation skills.
Avoiding conflict doesn’t help anything. In fact, it often backfires. When you bottle up your feelings and thoughts, it never gives your spouse the opportunity to know that you're upset about something. It also decreases the likelihood of a change in the behavior you have a complaint about.
You do, however, need to choose your “battles” wisely. Learning to recognize the difference between trivial and important issues as well as being able to disagree lies at the core of healthy conflict.
Settling problems by making concessions may not sound very romantic, but the art of compromise will keep your relationship happy. The balance of giving and receiving, yielding and winning, is an essential part of a fulfilling marriage.
When you have been effective in sharing your concerns, you stand a better chance of reaching a win-win compromise.
Diplomacy lies at the heart of compromise. It’s the tool to help you get on the same page as you discuss issues that arise. Respect is fundamental for calm and successful negotiation. Instead of focusing on fixing your spouse, your attention must be on changing your part of the relationship dynamic and connection.
No matter how you’ve handled problems before, with the right skills in place, you can now deal with unresolved conflict in a more progressive way.
How You Can Deal with Unresolved Conflict
Understand why there may be conflict
Conflict is inevitable in a committed relationship. You are two different people - different personalities, temperaments, families of origin, life experiences, etc. There is no way you will agree about everything.
Many times, conflict in a marriage means that at least one person feels neglected and is trying to be heard. You both want to feel valued, appreciated, and cared about. Remember that, and understand that you must discuss your feelings before the situation becomes too emotionally charged.
Maintain a problem-solving attitude
Nothing is gained by shutting down, fiercely proving a point, or criticizing one another. Instead, calmly and respectfully listen to your spouse. Ask them to clarify if you don’t understand their request. Keep the overall goal for talking in the forefront of your mind: understanding each other and resolving the disagreement.
Make time to address the problem when you are relaxed
Timing is everything. You’ll accomplish little when emotions run high. Rather, talk in a relaxed and informal setting and keep your pride out of the matter. Be willing to see your mate’s side of the issue, be quick to apologize when you make mistakes, and be willing to forgive when necessary.
Stay attuned to your spouse
Non-verbal communication is just as important as spoken words. Show that you’re paying attention when your mate speaks. Face them and make eye contact. Demonstrate with gestures that you’re listening and are willing to compromise. Stay in control of your emotions, let your tone of voice be soothing, and never resort to shouting.
Create an open-ended dialogue
Be open yet respectful when discussing what you want from your spouse. You both deserve to have your needs met, but you may have completely different opinions. Understand that you won’t be able to resolve every disagreement. Instead, acknowledge the differences and accept that you disagree. You can still be happy despite your different points of view.
Remember that conflict is never just one person’s fault
Focus on the current issue and how it makes you feel. Express yourself without blaming. Say what you feel, not what you think your mate has done. Stay focused on yourself and use “I” statements rather than “you” accusations. Sticking to your end of the conflict will carry you a long way into resolving it.
Take a break if you become overwhelmed
Staying calm is the priority when communicating problems. Sometimes, that means you’ll have to take a “time out” to collect your thoughts and cool down. If your anger escalates, nothing will get resolved. Set a time later when you continue discussing the issue. The goal is to keep you in a frame of mind where you can listen and discuss your concerns peacefully.
Changing how you and your spouse handle conflict isn’t easy, of course. But it can be done!
You can actually choose to manage problems more constructively. Keep in mind that conflict is inevitable and that not all issues have to be resolved.
When you embrace that approach, you can overcome disagreements faster and continue building connection and trust in your marriage.