- “Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude”
– William James
It is common knowledge we need healthy relationships in our lives if we want to be connected, happy people. That said, it is not unusual, for relationships to come with complications.
When you are experiencing problems in a relationship, it can be all consuming. Maybe you have reached the point where you can’t take anymore. The drama is draining and having a negative impact on your world.
Should it be easy?
The idea relationships should be easy is pretty unrealistic. It is a lovely idea, but it is just too simple. Relationships are not simple.
It is not unusual for their to be disagreements within relationships – when this happens, it is not easy.
A relationship is not defined by whether there are disagreements or conflicts, it is about how you manage them when they occur.
Disagreements can be useful – if you listen, you might learn something abut yourself. Plus, it is an opportunity to address issues and find solutions. These moments are not easy, but they are part of learning the dance between two unique individuals.
Think about it: you are wrapped up in your own minds most of the time, trying to make sense of every situation based on your own reality of the world. You are busy predicting what other people think, or wondering what they meant yesterday when they gave you the side-eye. The other person, is busy doing the same. It is no wonder there are misunderstandings and discord.
The style and frequency of arguments, fall outs and disappointments will decide the quality of your relationship and impact on your wellbeing and health.
Should I stay or should I go?
It is dependent on the bond, connection and relationship, whether you intend to improve and save your relationship.
No one is saying you have to cut anyone out, only you will know if it is at that stage.
Cutting people out does not fix all the problems, it leaves an element of guilt and what ifs. You have to weigh it up what this person does bring to your life compared to the impact.
You need to be aware of toxic relationships and avoid them at all costs. You do not deserve that.
I want to be clear because I think it is important – this blog is not giving tools to overcome any form of abuse. If you are in a relationship where you are experiencing abuse, I strongly recommend you reach out for help and work out your plan for getting out of this relationship.
You cannot change someone else
It’s important to note at this point, these tools are for YOU.
We cannot control another person’s behaviour, thoughts and feelings.
However, if one person in a relationships changes their response, then something has to shift.
Sometimes that shift will be enough to change the dynamic, and the other person’s behavior will improve. It is easier to resolve a conflict if both people agree there is a problem to work on. If only one of you see this problem, well, that’s a problem in itself…
If the other person is not interested in working with you on this issues; it’s really up to you if you choose to tell them what you are doing, but it tends to work better if you do.
It takes two
If you are looking around, and all of your relationships tend to have the same pattern: it is worth you taking a look inwards and identifying your role in conflict. If you are only willing to blame others, that is part of the problem right there. Check in with yourself: is your reaction coming from a place of insecurity, stubbornness or habit?
There can be a variety of reasons why conflict can happen within a relationship. Perhaps one or both people are under stress, both people have different values and understanding, you are going through a transition process, or you just don’t connect.
I am giving you a mixture of tools that I give to client’s depending on their presenting problem; sometimes the other person will be on board, and other times not.
I can hear you already, “it’s not that easy”, “I’ve tried it all before”. Like all the tools I give you, give it good time and effort to work. Expect it to be difficult at first. If you really do feel like it is not working, then you need to consider what it is this person brings to your world and whether it is worth this.
Here are some common tools used to help improve communication and manage conflict in relationships:
You have the ability to change how you communicate with someone. You can learn how to do this.
We are capable of listening and choosing our words.
It really is best to communicate, rather than let things build up.
How you communicate is going to influence how this goes. Even if the other person is not communicating in a style you agree with, you can still communicate effectively, however hard that may sound.
Your non-verbal communication plays a HUGE part in this exchange. Respect the fact, it is not only about the words that come out of your mouth.
That said, you are better off giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Try not to mind read or assume you know what they mean.
Resist any temptation to shout or fall back into old habits. This is a way for you to share how things are from your side.
Compassionate & Understanding:
First and foremost you need to come from a place of compassion, towards the other person and yourself. Before jumping to conclusions or into solutions, take the time out to understand what is going on here.
How are you feeling? Name it. Why? What is really getting to you?
How might the other person be feeling? (Have you even asked them?) Be honest, and name it. Why might they be feeling this way?
Ask yourself: what might an outsider say about this whole situation?
Try not to get stuck in your own world and instead, take a helicopter view. No judgements allowed.
Once you understand the why and adopt compassion, you might feel some of the tension, hurt and disappointment lift. Making it much, much easier to take on the next steps.
Identify the Problem
Once you have an understanding of the bigger picture and what everyone is feeling, then it is time to move on to identifying the problem and getting solution focused.
Whether on your own or with the person: name the problem. When you take the time to understand, you realise it’s not just about the fact they didn’t call that one time – it’s because there are several times they didn’t call and that makes you feel neglected, or because when they didn’t call, it reminded you of a past experience when you felt neglect. Or both.
It’s time to get solution focused: If you answer every problem with another problem, you will end up in circles. It is best to come away with a compromise (if possible) or plan on how to move forward, as opposed to identifying a problem and walking away.
This is a key tool to help you get your point across in an assertive, non offensive, non passive manner.
‘I statements’ is a simple tool to help you avoid blaming the other person and getting their back up.
During your exchange, beginning conversations with ‘you’ – ‘you’ sounds like you are pointing the finger. Naturally, in this instance, you would want to defend yourself.
For example – “I feel let down when you are late” instead of “You have let me down again”; “I feel disrespected when you do x,y,z” instead of “You clearly do not respect me if you do x,y,z”.
I statements are useful if you need to confront someone and/or you feel like you are not being treated kindly.
Try to resist the temptation to tell the other people what they think and how they feel. With I statements, you are simply sticking to the facts of how you feel, it is hard for someone to dispute that. For best results, you can follow it up with a request of what you would like to happen next time.
It is not a game, you need to be genuine when using this tool. If you are just going to say the words but use a mocking tone, the other person can tell.
Using this tool, does not mean the other person will respond how you want them to, be mindful of that. Especially at the beginning of implementing change.
Avoid Always and Never
When you are having a discussion or argument, avoid using ‘always’ and ‘never’. These are very generalised, and these words will not help either parties involved.
You will believe the words and feel even angrier, upset, stressed. And the other person will no doubt become defensive or refuse to hear you out because you are generalising. I expect if this person ALWAYS did this or NEVER did that, you wouldn’t be so set on saving this relationship.
List the Positives
The truth is, relationships transition and come under periods of stress. At these times it can be hard to remember what you are getting from this relationship. At times like this, you may find yourself becoming critical of this person and highlighting every fault you can come up with.
It can be useful to remind yourself of all the things you love, respect and appreciate about this person. You are noticing all the bad vibes they bring to your life. What about the good? there must be some? otherwise: why are you fighting for this?
Remind yourself of their good qualities when you find yourself becoming overly critical or prior to a difficult conversation or meeting with this person.
If you are certain there is no god qualities about this person, and the only reason they are in your life is due to circumstance… well… then I would say you need change your approach, dig deeper and find one good thing. You are clearly not going to cut this person out, so find a way to live with it, for your own health.
I have to put this one in because it is my one. When I feel things becoming heated or anger rising, I have to take time out. This would usually come from an unplanned conflict or reaction.
I have not always been this way. My style used to be very much a reaction to the emotion. I would face it head on, there and then. Turned out, nothing good comes from that and I end up feeling bad because I don’t even stick to the facts. Plus I’m a swearer.
Recognise when you need to take time out. Even five minutes can be enough to cool off. It doesn’t mean you can’t resolve it later, but calm down first and think things through.
If the other person prefers to hash things out there and then, or think you are immature for walking out. No problem. Rather that than shout and scream, creating more unnecessary drama.
The other person has their own experiences, sensitivities and beliefs. You also need to respect this, the same way you expect yours to be respected.
If you are serious about improving the quality of your relationship: you have to see, you both have different needs and ideas about what is right/wrong, good/bad. You might think being five minutes late is the rudest thing in this world, the other person might think it is perfectly acceptable.
Over time you will learn what is simply your expectation and be able to realise the other person actually had good intentions in this case.
If it is something, you have thought about, and believe your ‘expectation’ to be common courtesy, go back to points 1 and 2. Get it out there, compromise, plan, solve the problem.
Play by the Rules
If you have found conversations with this person always leads to a fight, or you are setting yourself up for a difficult conversation, set rules beforehand. Remember, if the other person is not aware of the rules, do not expect them to play by them at this stage.
In their book ‘Overcoming Relationship Problems’, Michael Crowe and Kevin Wylie list the following rules to stick to:
- Be brief and simple in what you say
- Leave gaps for your partner (or whoever it is) to contribute
- Be positive and warm
- If you say something negative, end the conversation with a positive
- Be specific (say what you mean clearly)
- If you don’t like something they do, it is better to suggest an alternative
- Ration discussion of past issues, and concentrate on present and future
- Stick to the topic and don’t drift
- If you are talking about your partner, try not to mind-read
- Speak as much as possible from the ‘I’ position.
Ta-daaa – obviously, this is in here. Love yourself more, you naturally won’t want relationship issues to mess with your equilibrium.
When you practice self-love towards yourself, you naturally become more compassionate towards others too, and you will be determined to solve it in a kind, compassionate way. As a result, sticking to the rules will come much easier to you.
There are just a few tools you can practice and help reduce conflict in your life.
Try them out and see how you go. You will need to practice, practice, practice. Don’t be surprised when you fall back into old habits or emotions take over; you are human. Keep trying.
If you believe you have tried all of these and nothing is working, you need to take time to decide what you need, for the wellbeing of both of you. It may be the timing is not right for this relationship, it may be that you do not gel, it may be that you would benefit from counselling or some form of mediation.
Comment below and let me now how you find using these tools or if you have any others that have worked.
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Carly Ann xx