Conventional wisdom tells us it is best to avoid conflict in a relationship. Arguments can bring out the worst in all of us. But in the real world, arguments are inevitable—the temperature of the bedroom at night, the cap on the toothpaste, how long the in-laws are staying—and are all potential minefields.
The good news is that not all conflicts are bad. New research suggests that arguing with your partner can, in fact, be GOOD for your relationship. The key is showing them that you understand where they are coming from. According to the study,
feeling that a partner is able to take one’s perspective and ‘gets’ one’s thoughts, feelings, and point of view buffers people against the negative impact of conflict on their relationship satisfaction.
Though you may disagree with what your partner is saying, expressing understanding can fortify your relationship and make it even stronger. As another research study shows,
when participants felt their partner understood them, the conflict apparently wasn’t just less harmful, it was actually beneficial. And when one partner felt understood, the other felt happier. It seems there’s a virtuous circle at play: When you feel understood, you increase your partner’s faith in the relationship.
Even if you are not on the same page, making the effort to understand your partner shows them they are important to you.
The most effective way to show you understand is to give your partner your full attention. Here’s how:
1. Listen attentively to what they are saying
No interrupting or looking at your cellphone. Express interest and stay present.
2. Don’t say, “I know how you feel”
Odds are this misguided statement will infuriate them. Show them you understand by saying it in your own words. Refrain from judgment or commentary.
3. Ask questions
Focus on their feelings. Consider the way you frame your questions. Instead of “why,” try asking “what” questions instead. Questions that begin with “what” lead to reflection and exploration whereas “why” questions leads to defensiveness.
4. Agree to Disagree
You cannot agree on everything. As long as you respect one another and communicate effectively, conflict can bring you closer. Remember, love IS respect.
5. Give them the benefit of the doubt
Believing in your partner’s good intentions, regardless of the outcome, is an important way to express understanding and generosity in spirit.
Regardless of whether you “win” the argument or get what you want, as long as you show understanding, your relationship can survive and even thrive from conflict.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman