Conflict can be positive or negative, constructive or destructive, depending on what you make of it. When handled properly, it has creative results and helps a relationship grow stronger. There's no end to the issues a couple can fight over – money, housework, the in-laws, … So how can a couple fight fairly and resolve conflict?
Ever heard the saying, 'Don't go to bed mad, stay up and fight'? Although it's not the best advice, it beats doing the 'I'll-pretend-to-sleepbut- what-I'll-really-do-is-tossand- turn-and-moan-and-groanand- make-you-as-miserable-as-I-am' routine.
Whether you stay up all night fighting or tossing and turning, one thing is certain – you'll be exhausted and miserable the next morning and your problem will still be there.
According to Dr Michael Tobin, marital and family therapist, couples need to understand that there is no such thing as a relationship without conflict. Accept that you and your partner have different personalities (often this was the attraction in the first place), opinions and feelings. The good news is that couples can fight fairly and resolve conflict. Here's how:
1. Identify what you are fighting about.
Often you will have been arguing for so long about so many different issues that you can't pin down what's really bothering you.
2. Choose a time when you are both relaxed
Where you won't be distracted by friends, the children or the telephone.
3. Don't blame each other
It's very easy to say, 'It's your fault. You are the reason I feel so miserable.' Blaming puts your partner on the defensive and never resolves anything. Your partner will most likely counterattack and both of you will end up on the losing side.
4. Don't mind-read or expect your partner to know what you are thinking and feeling.
Tell your partner what you want, and be specific. If you want more support, ask for it. In his book Holding on to Romance (Human & Rousseau), H Norman Wright suggests, 'Share with your spouse both your good and bad feelings. Verbalising feelings greatly minimises guessing, misunderstanding and arguing.'
5.Stick to the topic
Don't bring in other stored-up resentments. Agree to discuss only what's relevant.
6. Don't use silence as a weapon
Tell your partner what's bothering you. If you find this difficult, write your partner a letter but avoid blaming. Write about how you would like to improve your marriage.
7. Put yourself in your partner's shoes
Try to understand how he feels.
8. Don't say 'yes' when you mean 'no'.
Not only are you being untrue to yourself, but this will build resentment. Be honest and build your relationship on trust. Arnold Mol, author of Let's Both Win (Tafelberg), advises, 'The worst thing to answer when your partner asks you what the matter is would be to say "Nothing". Rather tell them that you're upset, but that you can't talk about it right away.'
9. Don't attack your partner's self-worth.
When we are angry it's so easy to say, 'You're a lazy, terrible father and an awful husband.' We are so quick to point out our partner's blemishes that we tend to forget about our own. Instead of making angry statements that begin with 'you', try making 'I' statements, for example, 'I feel resentful when you don't help around the house'.
10. Don't take your partner for granted.
We are usually more polite, kind and considerate to friends and tend to forget all the little things our partner does for us.
11. Don't assume you know what your partner thinks and feels
Don't just hear; listen with understanding. Respond as a friend, support him and show concern.
12. Never threaten or act in any way that frightens, intimidates or abuses your partner
But what if you are filled with rage? Dr Tobin suggests you go into a room where you won't be disturbed and beat a pillow or scream until you feel all your rage dissipating. Then write a letter about what's bothering you and what's missing in your relationship. If you feel you cannot control your rage, it's essential for you to seek professional help.