Singaporebrides | Relationships

June 2021

Successful Couples Use these 8 Skills to Manage Conflict

While conflict may be inevitable, successful couples know how to use these 8 psychologist-taught skills to manage conflict for happy and loving marriages that last.

The first few years of marriage are often termed the honeymoon phase. Newlyweds live in a lovey-dovey state of bliss, where each partner can do no wrong. When conflict inevitably creeps into the marriage, couples often wonder if they chose the wrong partner, or worry that their marriage is headed for divorce.

The truth is, conflict is a natural and inevitable part of life, and therefore marriage. Conflict even helps you to grow as a couple, as relationship coach Kyle Benson points out: “When we fight and argue, it teaches us how to love better, how to take a step back from the “problem” to understand our partners better.” Conflict teaches you to grow with the changes in your relationship as it evolves from dating to marriage to parenthood. When you find yourselves arguing more often or more fiercely, don’t threaten divorce, but fight for your marriage by using these 8 psychologist-recommended tips to manage conflict.

Cherie and Issac’s Sunkissed Shoot at Lower Peirce Reservoir and Sum Yi Tai by Andri Tei Photography

1. Reframe the Goal

If you approach conflict with the goal of winning the argument, you’ve already lost. The goal of healthy conflict is not to persuade or force your partner into your point of view. Each person’s viewpoint is valid and no one is “right”. The goal is to understand each other’s perspectives, and for each person to feel understood.

2. Start the Argument Softly

You’re unhappy about something, and your instinctive reaction is to angrily tell your partner exactly what they did wrong. But when you lash out at someone, how often do they nod politely and agree with your accusations?

Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman proposed that the first step to fighting better is a “softened start-up”. This means raising the problem in a non-accusatory and non-critical manner. For example, a harsh start-up might sound like, “Your cooking is getting really boring.” while a softened start-up might sound like, “Honey, I love trying new flavours and spices. Shall we experiment a little more in the kitchen?” Or, instead of shouting, “You always forget our anniversaries!” try saying, “Our wedding anniversary is coming up and I’d love to do something special with you.”

3. Express Your Needs with I-Statements

Starting your statements with “you” tends to lead to criticism: “You never do the dishes!” “You’re always on your parents’ side instead of mine!” Such statements blame your partner, and when they’re feeling criticised, they’re more likely to become defensive immediately, and no one gets heard.

Instead of accusing your partner of causing the problem, frame the issue with something you need from them. “We agreed that I would cook and you would wash the dishes by the end of the night. There were still dishes in the sink this morning. I’m really upset about this, so could you please clean them up?” Tell them how you feel about them siding with their parents instead of you: “I feel really deserted when you side with your parents instead of with me. I wish we would talk about things together first and then present a united front as a couple.”

As Ellie Lisitsa writes on Gottman Institute’s marriage blog, “Focus on how you’re feeling and what you need, not on accusing your partner! Both of you will stand to gain something from the conversation, and you will likely feel that you are hearing and understanding each other more.”

Nadine and Owen’s Quirky, Vintage Pre-Wedding Shoot at Golden Mile Tower by Fleur and Craft

4. Describe Your Point of View

Often, arguments arise when one party expects the other to do something while the other had no idea. “You never help with cleaning the house! Can’t you see how busy I am?” The thing is, often your partner really didn’t notice how busy you were. You may be able to finish each other’s sentences, but you can’t expect them to read your mind, no matter how well they know you or how long you’ve been a couple.

You need to be clear and express your needs, and describe your point of view in a positive manner so that they are more likely to see your side of things. Instead of putting your partner on the defensive with accusations, try observing, “I seem to be the only one cleaning the house and it’s a huge job.”

5. Be Polite and Appreciative

When you’re angry, it’s tempting to let loose with your extensive vocabulary of cuss words, but swearing at your partner is just going to make the conflict more heated. Instead, stay polite and frame your requests with “please” and “thank you”, and appreciate the things they did do. This helps maintain emotional connection even though you’re having a difficult conversation.

Geraldine and Sheldon’s Elegant Solemnisation at VUE at OUE Bayfront by Not Pixelated

6. Make Repair Attempts

If an argument feels like it’s spiralling, try making a repair attempt. Dr. John Gottman defines a repair attempt as “any statement or action — silly or otherwise — that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” This can be using humour to de-escalate the situation, agreeing with your partner when they defend themselves, or giving an affectionate touch. It’s also important to recognise and accept such repair attempts from your partner. As every relationship is unique, finding the repair strategies that work for the two of you can become part of your growth as a couple.

7. Don’t Bottle Things Up

Remember that episode from How I Met Your Mother when Lily and Marshall’s argument morphed into 20 different arguments? When you bottle your feelings and needs up, one day, you’ll find all the frustrations boiling over during an argument, which escalates into a laundry list of complaints. They might feel related to you, but your partner is likely to ask you why you’re bringing up ancient history. You both end up with too much negativity and issues to handle. It’s much more productive to bring up an issue when it arises, and once it’s been addressed, to refrain from complaining about it again.

8. Compromise

There are often negative connotations associated with the word “compromise,” especially with modern day advocations to stand up for your rights and stay true to your beliefs. In marriage, however, compromise is not about losing yourself, but about accepting influence from your partner. As Kyle Benson writes, “It’s about negotiating and discovering ways to accommodate each other.” Self-care is certainly important, but when you’re married, you become a team. You work together to support each other’s big goals and dreams, as well as find solutions to everyday issues.

Conflict is inevitable in every marriage, but successful couples learn to manage conflict to have happy, fulfilling, and loving relationships. Working through conflict actually helps you grow as a couple, as you strive to understand and support each other better.

Feature image from Joleen and Clement’s Dreamy and Intimate Wedding at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza by Leslie Photography

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