Advice from a Marriage and Family Therapist
The majority of fights with your significant other could be resolved in 5-15 minutes. Yes, for real! Here's how:
1. Pick one topic at a time
Conflict may start with an initial incident but soon escalates into a list of complaints one, or both, partners have about the other person. That kind of fighting is likely to go nowhere. Instead, try to work from the initial incident to identify: What am I feeling? What am I needing? What request can I make of my partner? (Or of myself, a friend or family member?)
2. Solve the problem, don't fix the person
Character attacks and "always/never" statements are likely to escalate conflict and keep your partner on the defensive or cause them to shut down. If you actually want the issue to be resolved, you and your partner need to collaborate. Stay connected to what you are wanting and why that is important to you (if it is). 3. Notice if you start to get dysregulated
Emotional dysregulation is actually what we often call "fighting". The conflict is not the problem, but our inability to stay calm and grounded is. That is when we say and do things that we don't mean because we are in a state of "fight or flight". Read your body's queues when you start to get dysregulated. Practice self-soothing techniques, or if your partner is available for it, engage in co-regulating behaviors (holding hands, a hug, a hand on the back). 4. Stop at 15 minutes if the conflict is not getting resolved
If one or both of you gets too dysregulated to have a productive conversation, agree to pause and come back to it. In the meantime, be mindful of how you engage or disengage with your partner. Taking space from a conflict is different than being passive-aggressive or shutting someone out completely.
Some conflict may lead to a difference in values or vision between you and your partner. You may need to decide whether that difference is irreconcilable or whether compromise is possible. If the difference is irreconcilable, is it one that you can live with or is it a non-negotiable value/vision that you truly need to be aligned with your partner on?
These tips may be easier said than done, and let's be honest, most of us did not have good models for conflict resolution growing up! As a couples therapist, I have the benefit of being an unbiased 3rd party that will not get dysregulated and can coach clients through conflict. Together we can identify roadblocks, develop new skills, better understand our nervous systems and be able to effectively resolve conflict and feel more connected as a couple no matter what stage of the relationship you are in!
Written by Emily Wheeler, MFT and therapist at Grit Therapy's Durango location. She is currently accepting new clients. Emily specializes in working with individuals and couples, and helps clients identify their own inner wisdom in order to make decisions from a place of clarity and confidence. Email email@example.com o learn more about working with Emily.