How Dealing with Conflict Can Help Couples Thrive

How Dealing with Conflict Can Help Couples Thrive January 16, 2022

Dear Terry,

After fourteen-years of marriage, I’m at the end of my rope. My husband, Ryan is gone a lot and even when he’s home, he’s watching sports. It seems like we have the same arguments over and over again. There’s not much joy or love left in our marriage.

Mostly, we argue about our kids, Tyler, 6, and Jessica, age 3. Since Ryan gets home late from his job as a store manager, he mostly wants to play with them and doesn’t help me settle them down. He disrupts their routine for getting ready for bed.

I’ve tried to explain to Ryan that I need his support so I can get ready for the next day. You see, I’m a sixth-grade teacher and my stress level is high. Often our kids are up to 9pm and I don’t get to sleep until 12pm. This leaves me sleep deprived when I have to get up at 6pm to make lunches, get the kids ready, and be at school at 8am.

What do you suggest as ways to reduce our arguments and communicate better? I love Ryan and want to save our marriage but I’m completely stuck on what to do next since Ryan doesn’t believe in marriage counseling. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells because whenever I approach Ryan about my unhappiness, we argue.

Sincerely,  Becca

Dear Becca,

It may sound unusual, but approaching conflict with a problem-solving approach and seeing it as a normal aspect of a healthy marriage, can help you succeed as a couple. However, one key ingredient of learning to manage conflict is trying a more positive way of have conversations to avoid a negative pattern of relating that is characterized by criticism and defensiveness.

According to relationship expert, Kyle Benson, our traditional thinking about conflict in a relationship needs to be revised. In “Transforming Criticism Into Wishes: A Recipe for Successful Conflict,” Benson proposes that “in the heat of an argument, it’s far easier to say what we don’t want than what we do.” Indeed, this is a relatable and often inescapable dynamic between couples.

That said, the bottom line is that couples who thrive attain empathetic communication. To a great extent, where we start dictates where we end up in terms of conflict resolution. Benson points it out precisely, writing that “it doesn’t matter how much trust and intimacy there is in a relationship, it’s nearly impossible for someone to listen to a personal attack without becoming defensive.”

Benson writes that “for conflict conversations to succeed, you must state your feelings as neutrally as possible and transform any complaint about your partner into a positive need. Negative emotions that lead us to blame or criticize are often signposts of what we value most.”

In this way, Benson believes that the way our negative emotions surface during a fight are “a clue to [our] hidden wish. Hidden underneath anger may be feelings of loneliness. When you become aware of that loneliness, you can ask your partner for the things you need to feel more connected.”

In the end, self-awareness and clear communication are central to the “courageous” strategies discussed in this blog. I also firmly believe that having a soft start up when you want to start a conversation to discuss a possible conflictual topic is a great idea.

For instance, if you want to enlist Ryan’s support in the bedtime routine for you kids, saying “Do you have a few minutes to discuss some ways we can have a smoother and earlier bedtime routine for the Kids? I’d appreciate your feedback and want to hear your ideas.” This approach will work much better than saying something like “You get our kids keyed up and don’t help me enough at night, you’re the reason I’m sleep deprived.”

In fact, it’s a great idea to remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and express your positive feelings out loud, it can enhance positive, empathetic communication. In The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman suggests increasing the number of positive comments you make to your partner. Listen to their point of view and adopt his rule of five-to-one ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction, have five positive ones during conflict.

Best Regards, Terry

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 


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