Conflict Resolution in an Intimate Relationship

There are three things necessary to sustain a healthy, on going, romantic, intimate relationship: heart, fire and skills.

When Jack and Nancy entered marriage therapy, it was obvious that they still had heart and fire. But their six year marriage clearly lacked effective skills, and that’s why their relationship was on the rocks.

“We get into these mean and vicious fights,” said Nancy. “We say things to hurt each other. What happened last week was typical. Jack came home late without calling. He said he had been out with the guys, but I told him I knew he was out with another woman and that I hated him and hoped he dropped dead. Our conversation degenerated from there. We were reduced to yelling and screaming obscenities at each other. How do we stop this before we ruin all the love?”

Most of us would not treat total strangers as badly as we sometimes treat our intimate partners. It is so easy to scratch all the skin off of each other’s backs when we’re angry or hurt, and that behavior injures love.

We need to learn more effective, healthier and friendlier ways to let our intimate partners know how we feel and what we want.

Sometimes in conflict, people adopt the attitude that if they don’t acknowledge or address the problem, it doesn’t really exist or it will go away. In truth, if you don’t address the conflict it will escalate.

A second belief is that when in a conflict or fight, I have to knock the other guy out or I’ll get knocked out myself. This is the old win/lose mentality with which most of us grew up.

Perhaps both of us could win if we could both hear each other and clear the air. Maybe neither party has to be the victor or the vanquished.

What we have to figure out is how to give the other person what he or she wants, while still getting what we want. What patterns do you see?  What makes an issue difficult for the two of you to deal with? Is there anything the two of you could do about this?

  • Ask your partner the question, “Is there anything you can help me learn about myself and about what I could be doing differently, in order to solve this dilemma? I need your help in trying to figure this out.”
  • Criticism tends to provoke defensive reactions, We can learn to control our word—and behavior—to serve a relationship we don’t want to harm.

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