By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator
Watch Clay discuss the topic on WBIR.
We say it constantly: Conflict is a normal part of any romantic relationship. It makes sense then, that the ability to heal after a fight is a crucial relationship skill. We’ve all been there. There’s a huge fight, maybe even stemming from something seemingly minor. Feelings are hurt, and you’re left trying to pick up the pieces. But what if we could short circuit our destructive communication patterns before it ever got that far?
In fact, we all have our own little peace-keeping tactics, or repair mechanisms, as described by psychologist John Gottman. Like an in-flight course correction keeps a plane from veering too far off course, these maneuvers help keep dialogue flowing in a smooth, safe manner. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment we sometimes forget to use these skills, or even block our partners well-meaning attempts to keep things on track. If we can improve our ability to use and respond well to these repair mechanisms, we have the opportunity limit emotional flooding, stop a would-be fight in it’s tracks and turn back toward a healthier way of communicating.
1) Edit and filter: Look for the constructive aspect in your partner’s statement. Even if there’s a critical word thrown in or perhaps just a nasty tone, trying ignoring that and responding only to the important, deeper message behind it. Remember, anger is often a signal from our partner that they are trying to get our attention or feel unheard. With this in mind, we should remember to filter our own words before we speak. Think about what will actually be productive and leave out the rest.
2) Direct traffic: Be directive and intentional about keeping the conversation focused and productive. This can be as simple as “You’re interrupting me,” “We’re getting off topic,” or “Tell me more.” Although some of these comments might seem rude, their potential to do good often outweighs the negative. Remember,it’s easy for conversations to get off track, but conflicts are usually best solved one at a time.
3) Focus on the present: Talk about how you’re communicating and feeling in the moment. When the conversation gets bogged down in the details, this type of meta-communication helps bring the conversation back to what matters. This might mean saying something like, “It hurts my feelings when you say that.” It could also mean asking your partner how they are feeling in the moment then listening non-defensively.
4: Polite persuasion: Don’t torpedo your chance at compromise by taking an overly strong initial stance. Be open about your willingness to negotiate and your desire to understand their perspective. This can set the tone for the discussion and avoid the sense of gridlock that often leads to more lasting feelings of hurt and frustration.
5) Humor: There’s nothing quite like a shared moment of laughter to diffuse tension and remind partners of their connection. Although it’s a skill that can’t exactly be taught, one helpful idea is to remember not to take yourself too seriously. So often we realize how silly our disagreements are after the fact, a shared realization of this (even briefly) can be a very powerful thing.