All relationships-even the good ones -have some degree of conflict.
It is important during conflicts to stick to recent specific complaints-& not throw in anything & everything including the kitchen sink (tempting as that is)!
At their heart most conflicts are my need versus your need ( & the most intractable ones are my deepest values & dreams versus your deepest values & dreams).
This is a simple & effective way to bring up difficult issues:
1) Choose your time carefully- ideally when you are both relaxed & getting on
2) Most of what we communicate is not through our words but through our tone & body language- so make sure that you are in the right frame of mind by reminding yourself before you start of all the things you like about your partner-& the things that they do right!
3) Start with”I” + emotion, for instance, ” I am upset”, “I am hurt” , ” I am scared”.
4) Now name your complaint & make it SPECIFIC, for instance, ” that the kitchen was a mess this morning”, ” that you spent so much on those shoes” ” when I look at our bank balance”.
5) Ask for what you need ( optional) for instance, ” we need to find ways of spending less money”.
Research shows that the beginning of a conversation predicts how it will end. In the best relationships people are gentle with each other.
Some people, however gently you start a difficult discussion, have had so many experiences of feeling attacked & criticised that they will get defensive no matter how you begin. In this case, the best thing to do is to clearly state that you don’t mean to attack or criticise them but rather want to let them know how this specific thing has made you feel & what you need to feel better.
Relationships work best when both people are getting their essential emotional needs met (read more about this here). It is very important to the health of the relationship that both are getting their needs for attention & affection met, to a significant degree, within the relationship.
In relationships where both people are getting their emotional needs met & particularly their needs for attention & affection, they will, as a consequence, both feel supported & valued & a positive reinforcing cycle will develop. This is known by psychologists as”positive expectation over-ride”. In this positive spiral effect, because both partners have largely positive experiences & expectations of each other, when conflict occurs it quickly fizzles out. According to Psychologist John Gottman, who has done 40 years of research in this field, that is because in any conflict situation there is always at least one attempt at peace-making. This repair attempt can take many forms but the form it takes is not important. What is important is whether the person who is on the receiving end hears it & accepts it. If this happens then the conflict quickly comes to an end.
Gottman’s research shows that whether the person on the receiving end of a repair attempt hears it & accepts it depends solely on the health of the relationship prior to the conflict. If someone feels unloved & unsupported they will not hear or accept an attempt to end the argument-& it will escalate. If someone feels loved & supported in the relationship prior to the conflict, they hear & accept any attempt, whatever form it takes, to end the argument & the conflict fizzles out.
In relationships were both parties are getting their needs met, conflict can become just a release of tension that is healthy not harmful. When partners bring up difficulties as they arise, it is often easier for them to stick to recent, specific complaints (& ensure that insults aren’t flying)– then they can emerge from conflict unharmed & with more understanding of each other.
And when you are meeting each others’ needs in the relationship, when you both feel safe enough to listen to each other & talk at the level of emotions & needs- this is what will ultimately brings you close.