***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Relationships are hard. One moment, you could feel really connected and that things are going well between you and your partner. Other times, you may notice that you have a disagreement about the same, unresolved issue - over and over again. Or, you might find that challenges regarding your and/or your partner's ability to express thoughts and feelings, show empathy, or problem-solve around issues can lead to relationship dissatisfaction and make you question if you want to stay together.
When there is conflict or disagreement in relationships, it can be hard to figure out what to say, do, and how to resolve problems in an effective way. Having some strategies to draw on during these tough times can be helpful. Keep reading for some tips to help you navigate disagreements and try to improve your connection with your partner.
1. Recognize the benefits of being assertive – and speak up
Being assertive may be particularly challenging in certain cultures or dynamics where there is a perceived power differential or hierarchy from a gender perspective and if you are generally uncomfortable with the idea of speaking your mind. Consider what works in your specific context and try to find a way that works for you to raise your concerns and feel heard. Your voice - and your needs - matter.
When talking with your partner, make brief and focused statements about what you need. Do your best to not apologize for asking for what you want but rather try to remain confident in your words, tone, and posture. Think about how meeting your needs could benefit your life and improve your relationship satisfaction and use that as motivation to maintain your assertiveness. It will get easier with time and practice.
An equally important task is to ask your partner what they need from you. Being mutually supportive in a way that resonates with each of your unique needs can go a long way toward helping you both feel secure and connected in your relationship.
2. Stay engaged
As hard as this may be, try to stay engaged during the hard conversations with your partner. You may notice you are keen to retreat, shut down emotionally, or distract yourself away from the difficult thoughts and feelings that may arise. Please don’t.
Try to keep with it and be mentally and emotionally present. However, keep in mind that there needs to be mutual respect for listening to each other’s views in order to work together effectively toward a resolution.
3. Take breaks to calm down when needed
While it is important to stay engaged, it is also important to know when to take breaks. If tempers are flaring, voices are escalating, and there is plenty of pointing fingers or blaming the other person, this will reduce the effectiveness of the discussion. The best thing to do is to take a break and wait to resume until you are both calm and able to have a more objective and less emotionally--charged conversation.
4. Remain on track with the issue
It can be easy to get off track during arguments and launch into new issues -- or worse -- get caught up in old issues from the past that was never addressed. If you catch yourself going on a tangent or notice this is happening with your partner, try to re-focus yourselves on the primary issue at the moment and figure out the first step you can take as a team to manage the issue in a mutually--beneficial way.
5. Give a genuine apology
Consider if there is something you may have said or done that could have been done differently – perhaps with a more neutral tone or language or in a more empathic or supportive way.
Take a moment to give the other person a genuine apology for any behaviour you engaged in that was critical, dismissive, or rejecting of your partner. Show your partner that you are committed to communicating in a way that demonstrates you care and want to come together as a unit.
6. Take the perspective of your partner
See value in the other person’s opinion - even if you don’t agree with them.
Can you find some truth in what they are saying? For example, if they are having a hard time sharing their feelings with you, is it possible that you shut down emotionally during arguments and this could limit their self-expression? Or, if they feel that conversations often lead to no change, could it be because you are having difficulty reaching a compromise or recognizing how you might be contributing to the argument or keeping it going?
Validating the other person’s thoughts and feelings by being able to see some truth in it can help diffuse tensions and open up the possibility of reaching a compromise that considers both partners’ points of view.
Arguments, differences of opinion, and disagreements don’t always have to lead to a detrimental impact on the foundation of a relationship.
Honing your ability to speak up about your needs, ask your partner how to best support them, stay engaged, recognize when a break is needed, remain on track with the primary issue, attempt to see things from your partner’s point of view, and hold yourself accountable are all invaluable skills that can help you tackle whatever dispute arises with grace, ease, and – perhaps most importantly - mutual respect and understanding.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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