Healthy Communication Methods for Dealing with and Avoiding Conflict
By Thao Nguyen
Conflict is natural in any relationship, but especially in a romantic relationship. Because no matter how in tune you are with your partner, at the end of the day you are two individuals, and as long as there is more than one person involved, there will be misunderstandings, differences in opinions, and opportunities for discord. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Disagreements are opportunities for growth and strengthening communication. Learning how you fight as a couple is important for determining if the relationship is compatible and worth fighting for (no pun intended).
That being said, there are definitely ways to mitigate unnecessary arguments and dissent. It’s probably been drilled into everyone’s mind how important communication is in a relationship, but it’s rarely discussed candidly how couples can communicate effectively. I’m certainly not a relationship expert, but I have found that there are some things that my boyfriend and I do that have made our relationship relatively easy to navigate and drama free.
Us versus the problem, not me versus you
I’ve always been told that when I’m with someone, their problems are my problems and that their joys are my joys. It’s easy to share in your partner’s successes. It’s a lot harder to make their issues your issues. But things will never work out if you can only celebrate together and never struggle together. This is especially true when your partner has a problem with something that you do. For example, let’s say your partner is upset with how you communicate with him about things that annoy you. Rather than seeing this as an attack on you and your communication style, see it as opportunity to work together to find a communication style that works for both of you. When one person in the relationship is having a hard time with some aspect of the relationship, remember that it’s the two of you versus the problem and not one person versus the other.
Be vulnerable and respectful
Of course, in order for the two of you to address issues together, you both must be willing to voice your concerns and annoyances. When you love and care for someone, telling them that they’re doing something to hurt you isn’t easy. There’s always the fear that they’ll take it wrong (see above), that it could harm the relationship, or that it’ll lead to more problems. But it’s vital that both parties are happy, content, and at peace, so being open about things that bother you is necessary. That doesn’t mean you can be excessively blunt or accusatory about things. We tend to be too brusque with the people we love (usually because we love them). We have to remember that just because we’re totally comfortable with them doesn’t give us the right to speak down on them or to be mean. If something is bothering you, be vulnerable enough to let them know, but do so in a way that is respectful and shows that you know they aren’t doing it to purposefully hurt you.
Set things up for success and address things early
Let’s say there’s something your partner does that slightly bothers you, but not enough for it to be a problem yet. Be aware of that behavior and do some introspection. Why does it bother you? Will it become a problem in the future? If the answer is yes, be candid with your partner about it and explain clearly why it’s going to be an issue for you. Addressing something before it becomes a huge problem leaves less room for overreaction and emotions are less likely to run wild. Maturity and self awareness go hand in hand, and a healthy dose of both are necessary for good communication. By addressing things early on, both parties have an opportunity to adjust their expectations and behavior. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and leaving things until the last minute won’t be conducive to healthy problem solving.