I believe that being able to truly listen is a virtue. Many of us think that we are listening, when, in fact, we are too busy planning what to say next, anxiously awaiting our turn to speak. Listening is the cornerstone of any successful relationship—whether with a family member, friend, or significant other—because deep down we all want to be heard and understood. In my experience, a guy who really “gets” me not only hears what I have to say, but appreciates, cares about, and respects what I have to say.
When it comes to managing conflict, it’s about sincerely listening to the other person and putting your ego aside, with the main goal being to resolve the conflict—not to win or lose. Conflict is inevitable, but it’s how you handle it that will make or break your relationship. Contrary to popular belief, arguments are not always a negative thing. When approached in the right way, they can bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship. Here are five rules to guide you on the road to resolution:
1. Pick an appropriate time and place to discuss your concerns.
The expression “timing is everything” is especially true when it comes to conflict resolution. For example, it’s not a good idea to pick a fight with your boyfriend while he’s watching football with his friends. The environment has to feel safe so both people are comfortable enough to express their feelings and have a respectful conversation.
“Men are much more likely to be able to communicate more clearly, easily and effectively when talking about a difficult topic when they are doing an activity such as walking, biking or hiking,” says Terri Orbuch, PhD, relationship expert and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship (Sourcebooks Casablanca).
The next time things get heated, suggest an outdoor activity to ease the tension.
2. Remain calm and approach the conversation with an open mind.
If you go into the conversation in attack mode, your partner will immediately be put on the defensive and be less receptive to your point of view. Before you begin, make sure your emotions are under control so you can remain levelheaded and effectively convey your thoughts and feelings.
“Have some boundaries about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t, [which includes] no cursing, no physical interaction, no yelling or screaming,” says Michael Batshaw, psychologist and author of Before Saying ‘I Do’: The Essential Guide to a Successful Marriage (Turner).
If one person becomes too emotional, taking a break is the best course of action, Batshaw adds.
Try writing your feelings down while both of you cool off. This will help you collect your thoughts and be more prepared to communicate effectively when you continue the discussion.
3. Be specific.
It’s important to focus solely on the situation or behavior that’s upsetting you. Using an argument as an opportunity to attack your partner’s character flaws will only make matters worse.
“It’s hard for anyone to own up to a generalization and so you’ll likely just see his or her defensiveness activate,” says Rory Vaden, self-discipline strategist, international speaker, and author of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success (Perigee Trade). “By isolating an instance of fact, everyone can quickly see where he or she was right and wrong.”
Instead of “you’re so rude” and “you always make a mess,” you can say “I don’t like when you leave the dishes in the sink.”
4. Give each other equal time to talk.
Allow your partner to finish his or her thoughts before answering. Also, acknowledging the other person’s point of view before expressing your own is a crucial step toward reconciliation. Many people make the mistake of approaching a fight with a win-or-lose mentality instead of focusing on resolving the issue.
“Be more interested in understanding rather than winning,” says Jeffrey Rubin, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Art of Flourishing: A New East-West Approach to Staying Sane and Finding Love in an Insane World (Harmony). “Take seriously the validity of your partner’s feelings. Focus on understanding where he or she is coming from, as opposed to trying to defeat them in a debate.”
5. Avoid any blaming or accusations.
Larry Alan Nadig, PhD, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor, explains that if you consciously try to use more “I feel” statements, you will come across as less aggressive and more compassionate. Saying “I feel” helps you avoid blaming vocabulary, such as “you should” and “you always.” “I” statements can’t be disproven, and they are less likely to illicit a negative response.
Learning how to compromise will strengthen your relationship and help you have a clearer understanding of your partner’s point of view. Instead of focusing only on your own wants and needs in an argument, try focusing on finding common ground. The key to resolving conflict is to be compassionate and understand that it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong—it’s about finding a solution together that works for both of you.