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Transforming Conflict

In all relationships, there are ways to handle the inevitable disagreements and disagreeable parts of life.

Is Conflict So Bad?

We all face conflict in our relationships.

Conflict isn’t good or bad: the way in which we perceive and deal with it can be either an opportunity for growth or a thorn in the side of the relationship. It’s all about how we use it.

How to Maneuver the Ups and Downs

Get out of ego land. When you’re stuck in a power struggle, put aside your need to be right for the moment. Ask yourself why winning is so important. Is it more meaningful than love and happiness?

Empathize. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. This creates empathy and helps you to understand their point of view. Acknowledging your partner’s feelings does not mean you agree with them. Nor does it mean you give up on meeting your own needs. Often feeling understood will mean more to your partner than winning the battle.

Emphasize the positive. According to Dr. John Gottman’s research on marital satisfaction healthy relationships have a 5-to-1 ratio of positive statements to negative. In other words, Gottman found that it takes five positive statements of appreciation or gratitude to make up for every negative one. So be on the look out for opportunities to fill the relationship coffers before conflicts arise, what Gottman calls “building the reservoir of good will.”

I have found, in treating distressed couples, families and co-workers, that as they become adept at acknowledging the good stuff others are doing they not only pre-empt and repair conflict but increase their own feelings of happiness and self-worth.

Say you’re in the midst of a potential battle. Maybe you’re at the end of your rope over your husband not pulling his weight around the house, his maddening habit of leaving wet towels all over the furniture. Instead of focusing on what your partner’s done wrong, notice what he’s done right. Tell him how much you love the way he asks every evening if you need anything at the store before he comes home, and how you can count on him to know your favorite brands. How, when you’re sick and feeling frumpy, shlumping around in your worn out flannels, he can make you feel loved, beautiful and worth nurturing. Let him know you appreciate that you can count on him to care for the kids, and even cook up a mean pot of chicken soup. Then, yes, bring up the wet towels.

When wading into territory that you know is fraught with potential conflict and hurt feelings, start with what’s great. If you wish your mate would spend more time engaging in foreplay, rather than criticizing him for what you’re not getting, tell him how you appreciate his tenderness, how safe you feel with him in bed. Then tell him you’d like to get more experimental in the early stages of sex before moving on to the main course.

With practice, you can acquire the habit of noticing what your beloved is doing right instead of wrong, and doing so can land you solidly in the ranks of those couples that stay committed to each other.

Your partner is not a psychic. Don’t assume your mate automatically knows what you want or need. Babies and toddlers need their mommies to figure out what their needs are–big boys and girls can ask! Take responsibility for sharing your feelings and needs with your partner.

Conflict Can Lead to Personal Growth and Greater Intimacy

Once you’ve stopped playing the blame game, you can ask yourself: “Has this conflict come up in other relationships?” “What is my part in this”? “Is this feeling similar to how I felt or feel in my family of origin?” Don’t miss the opportunity presented by this issue with your mate to heal personal wounds that you’ve brought into this relationship.

A partnership in which you fell safe affords you the opportunity to not only resolve conflict but to grow as individuals, and as a couple. Deepen your connection to yourself, your loved one, and you create more peace, harmony and joy all around.