The reality of modern times is that we live a life more complex than the preceding generations, thereby making conflicts among people inevitable. The word conflict itself has such a strong negative connotation and one quick web-search can lead us to an ample number of synonyms such as – dispute, squabble, disagreement, discord, antipathy, shouting-match, schism, feud, etc.; completely neglecting the most appropriate, yet subdued, synonym – difference of opinion. Let us hang on to this line of thought — for this piece at least — as we talk about conflict resolution in relationships and ways to understand your partner better.
Most threads of conventional wisdom assert that it is not the conflict per se, but how the conflict is handled that matters. In fact, there have been enough studies that show how conflict, if cognitively used as a positive reinforcement vehicle during the disagreement, can make relationships traverse from one point of existence to another, in a positive-transient way.
To shed some more light on the same, Shazia Saleem (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in separation and divorce counseling, is here to help us understand conflict resolution a little better.
What Does Conflict Resolution Mean In A Relationship?
As already mentioned above, conflict in romantic relationships is bound to exist. It’s an inescapable phenomenon that with time, you just have to learn to become adept at handling. No two people can agree on all the same things. And when you put those two people in a relationship and ask them to share their lives together, those disagreements will get aired.
Helpful conflict resolution strategies for couples are just techniques to maneuver around those differences and not let them get the better of your love. Just because you two can fight all night, doesn’t mean that you aren’t deeply in love with each other. What it really means is that you need to learn how to set your differences aside, be more accepting of the other person and find common ground to be able to work on the same.
Shazia suggests, “Conflict is something very natural to all human beings. It exists in almost all relationships around us. Conflict can be termed as a verbal disagreement or an argument between two people who have different backgrounds, different values, perspectives and belief systems. Unless they take an unhealthy turn, conflicts can in fact be healthy for a relationship. But once that turn is taken, to resolve conflicts between husband and wife becomes foremost and that’s where these strategies come in.”
Sensible Tips For Conflict Resolution In A Relationship
While every relationship is unique, it is always good to have a repository of perspectives to refer to and apply in case our wisdom and sensibilities don’t sync up. So for conflict resolution, it is important to understand a partner’s perspective as well.
(Note: Never believe anyone who claims to be a pro at relationships. You will always be disappointed or underwhelmed, eventually.)
That being said, you’re probably here because you can’t shake off the question, ‘how to resolve conflict in a marriage or in a relationship?’ Well, we’re only just getting started. Read further and you’ll find all the answers that you need.
Related Reading: 7 Strategies To Stop Fighting In A Relationship
1. Leveraging on the theory of Prisoner’s Dilemma
If I were to transpose my learnings from Game Theory to relationships, it can be said with a certain level of confidence that the best outcome in a relationship can only come from the high risk (and high returns) strategy of ‘Co-operation’. Now, don’t let the technicalities confuse you; simply focus on the keyword here which is ‘co-operation’.
Most conflicts have one underlying outcome – to win at any cost, which is where the ‘Defection’ as per Game Theory happens and either of the Prisoners (only figuratively mind you!) chooses to not trust the other’s intention, hence retaliating and thereby sabotaging the relationship completely. Remember it’s not you against the other, it is you two against the problem at hand.
Try to empower each other instead
The strength of two people who are together lies in the empowerment they bring to each other and NOT in tearing each other down. So if you two are often doing the latter, then it’s time you stop that immediately.
As Shazia points out, “Co-operation is very important in any conflict resolution. It’s like agreeing to disagree. Two people arriving at a mutual ground, understanding each other better, respecting each other’s perspectives, are all going to put you on a better path to resolving conflict in romantic relationships. A few strategies of enhancing co-operation would be — being accommodating, giving each other space, understanding their needs and making a collaborative effort to solve the problem.”
2. How to resolve conflict in a marriage? Speaking the same language
Every time I come across any examples of conflict in relationships, my first (hard-trained) reaction is to tell myself, “Hold on, we’re probably not speaking the same language.” It almost always works and you will notice this too. Coming back to the relationship context, if there is one phrase that wins the Oscar of ‘most oft-repeated, face-saving dialogues ever’, it should hands-down be awarded to –
“I didn’t mean what I said.”
Let’s do a quick spider-crawl through our memory and remember the last time we used it, hmmm?
Try to speak the same language to deal with conflict and aggression in romantic relationships
It is imperative to understand that no two people speak the same language or even use the same words in the same context. A very bad (but relatable) example is the use of cuss-slangs these days. The way they are used as per situations and people, is a whole other ballgame by itself. Which essentially means that taking people at ‘face value’ especially when in the midst of a heated conflict, is extremely overrated (or shall we say, grave error).
Give it a shot maybe? Just give another person the benefit of doubt of ‘maybe’ speaking a different language and ‘maybe’ coming from a different point of view. This will greatly help in conflict resolution and help you deal with marital problems much better.
Shazia advises, “Common conflicts in a marriage can all be resolved when a couple tries their best to reach an understanding. It is possible that two people speak two different languages and it generally happens when we get emotionally charged and we tend to talk in the language that comes most naturally to us without thinking. Additionally, one should also take care of non-verbal cues to keep the argument healthy. Be mindful of facial expressions and your body language as these can have a great impact too.”
Related Reading: 8 Fights Every Couple Will Have At Some Point In Their Relationship
3. To resolve conflicts between husband and wife, take a bird’s eye view
Yes, the bird’s eye view concept might just be the answer to your, “How to resolve conflict in a marriage?” question. This is my favorite strategy of all because it definitely is the coolest and very easy to apply, if you think about it. The thing with fights and getting defensive during those fights is that one tends to overlook many things as they stand their ground and fight for what they think is right.
Maybe you’re upset that he forgot to do the dishes again or you are annoyed that your wife has been very cold and distant toward you lately. This is enough for you to turn into a ball of fumes, storm into the living room and start the fight of the decade. But the moment you take a step back and try to analyze what’s happening, you may see a little merit in their argument too.
This doesn’t mean that your spouse was never wrong or that you have been mindlessly yelling at them. It’s just possible that there is a far wider range of things that you must perceive to understand the situation better. Perhaps he forgot to do the dishes because he had a long evening of making grocery runs and picking up the girls from their dance lesson. Maybe your wife is acting distant because she’s got a crazy new boss at work and it’s been driving her up the wall. Take a bird’s eye view, assess the situation from all sides and you’ll be a much better lover to your partner.
How to have a bird’s eye view?
In a nutshell, in a conflict, the one who can distance themself from the issue and see the entire picture, without a preconceived notion, can bring so much more sanity and direction to the engagement. But the oracle question is, are you ready to give up your sense of hurt and do that?
Shazia tells us, “To see the bigger picture one just has to ‘agree to disagree.’ Acceptance is the key if you are serious about recovering from conflict in romantic relationships. Accept each other’s faults, accept that you will never be the same and make a genuine effort in the relationship to respect each other’s perspective.”
The moment you zoom out, separate your own ego from the issue and try to have an unbiased perspective, you will definitely be so much better at dealing with your common conflicts in a marriage.
4. The Betadine Effect
Think about it; Betadine is not necessarily a better antiseptic than Neosporin just because it painfully burns the wound. Neosporin seems to have always challenged conventional wisdom – that if it does not burn, it would not heal.
That same ideology goes with conflict and aggression in romantic relationships as well.
I see a discourse these days wherein it is being mass-sanctified that it is okay to be upfront (which also means being rude these days), even if saying hurtful things during a conflict as if a relationship cannot take hurt well, it cannot survive. I vehemently disagree with the same and definitely consider this one of the biggest problems and examples of conflict in relationships.
This is certainly not the answer to, ‘How to resolve conflict in a marriage?’
Helpful conflict resolution strategies for couples – be kinder towards one another
Conflict in romantic relationships need not necessarily be hurtful and in fact, going back to the point on Game Theory, give the best result when carried out in cooperation and civility, while keeping a comfortable distance. Try it and try being the safety notch of the other person’s trigger. It works wonderfully. (Although I secretly wish that Betadine wasn’t of the color it is but that’s for another day.)
Shazia advises, “What causes conflict in a marriage? Sometimes, it starts with hurtful words themselves. Which is why it is always better to be civil and decent in an argument. In a fit of rage, people tend to become emotionally unstable and lose control of their words and thoughts. These words said rashly could cause deep scars that could affect your partner for a long, long time for the other person to heal from. One has to be in a better emotional state to understand the context of the problem.”
Related Reading: 8 Ways To Reconnect After A Big Fight
5. The mythological code of conduct for War to deal with marital problems
This is a brilliant piece of minimum decorum for common conflicts in a marriage and relationship problems, I would assert. In all Indian mythological references, wars post sunsets have been prohibited because only anti-dharma demons fight post-sunset. But since the working hours were not long and taxing during those times, allow me to amend this wisdom a bit and conclude that no war should be taken to the bed and most definitely not beyond the bed, next morning.
Whenever caught in an unresolved impasse or standoff, using a circuit-breaker is an exceptional idea, and what better circuit breaker than the boundary of the bed which is the ‘safe-zone” and the stretch of the night to sleep over it. Next time when in the midst of a major conflict, do try this.
Set aside and take time off to deal with conflict in romantic relationships
As suggested by Shazia, “Taking time off and creating a healthy distance can actually work wonders in resolving a conflict. This way, the person gets some time to think about the issue in a relaxed and calm manner without any stressors. It is always better to not react immediately to any conflict and instead take some space so you can respond better later on. As I always say, emotions are never the same and change much more than you think. These things are situational and some situations just need some space and time.”
Having said all of this, relationships are now changing their meaning and significance drastically and there are days when we might feel completely lost because of them. But that is perfectly alright because people who get lost in the dark usually discover light like never before. Moreover…
We attach too much importance to:
The pain that was our fault,
The misery that was insignificant,
The relationships that never were,
The people who never mattered,
And the money we could have anyways never saved.
We attach too less importance to:
And being Reasonable!
To end things on a positive note, we hope this gave you a better understanding of what causes conflict in marriage and how one should go about it. These pro tips are time and tested so rest assured that you’re on the right path once you start applying these in your marriage.
If things still don’t seem to be working out too well for you, well then, therapy and counseling are always an option you can try. If you are looking for a therapist to help you resolve conflicts between husband and wife, know that Bonobology’s skilled panel of counselors is only a click away.