There is conflict in all relationships, whether it’s at work or at home. All couples will disagree from time to time but it’s the way we manage conflict that matters and good communication is vital. When you communicate effectively, you understand your partner or your co-worker better, which makes your relationship stronger, and can even improve you your health and well-being.
The Acting CEO of Relationships Australia WA, Susan Visser says conflict can be a part of a healthy relationship if the individuals are able to move to a resolution and repair any damage that might have been done. Unresolved conflict, however, will have a ripple effect in all areas of your life. “It will affect your levels of happiness, self-esteem and confidence, and it will affect the family as a whole, especially if there are children involved,” Visser says.
The impact of conflict can also be felt at work because conflict at home can impair communication and your ability to function within the workforce. “If you come to work after conflict at home, you are less likely to be open to hearing another person and being available to them,” she says.
So, what does healthy conflict resolution look like? “When you are engaged in a disagreement it’s important to fight fair,” says Warren Cann, Psychologist and CEO of Parenting Research Centre. Here are eight tips for healthy conflict resolution.
- Invest in your relationship It’s not the number of positives that differentiate, happy from unhappy, couples, it’s the number of negatives. Happy couples engage in low levels of criticism. “If you want to improve your relationship from this moment, choose not to criticize,” Cann says. A healthy partnership is less about dates and romance and more about everyday behaviours like kindness, respect and appreciation. “These are the things that become eroded after time, but these are the things that make an enormous difference,” he explains.
- Stay in the present When you’re having an argument, it’s important to stick to the issue. “Don’t bring up past hurts or other situations that can bring you ammunition to prove your point,” advises Susan Visser. “There is no benefit in going back into the history. Focus on the issue on hand and don’t dredge up examples from the past.”
- Listen well Being a good communicator means being a good listener. Most couples listen with the intent to reply, whereas active listening is fundamental because it prevents misunderstanding. “When we actively listen and listen well, we get to the core of the issue far better,” explains Visser. Focus on the person and switch off other interruptions. Let the other person have their say.
- Improve your personal editing Don’t attack the other person’s personality. Watch your tone and avoid name-calling or personal insults. Avoid over-generalising. “Keep in mind that the goal is not to hurt, but to solve the problem,” says Cann. “Look at the issue you disagree on, not the person.” In order to have good communication patterns, a person must not feel judged. “Reserve judgment and don’t jump in,” Visser adds.
- Take responsibility Focus on the solution, not the blame. It’s more constructive to be thinking about how you’re going to address the issues and what you can change about the way you behave, think and speak that will improve things. “Take responsibility for the things that you can alter, rather than demanding change from your partner,” Cann says.
- Break fight habits Some couples end up having the same argument over and over. Create spaces to sort out issues that have potential to lead to a fight. Take a break if an argument is becoming too heated, suggests Visser. “You can’t fight fair when you are flooded with emotions. Call time out until you have calmed down and come back to it with a clearer head.”
- Work hard on the recovery phase Sometimes fights become automatic; they happen before you get any control over it. Cann says that’s the hardest time to communicate constructively so as the emotion subsides, work hard towards reconciliation. “Don’t revisit the issue, talk about the process. Debrief about how it got to that point and discuss how you could deal with it differently next time.” Most importantly try to minimise a hostile aftermath.
- If the kids are around Any discussion that could lead to high emotion should take place away from the kids. “Kids find it hard dealing with high adult emotion,” explains Cann, adding that it can be particularly damaging if children are exposed to arguments that are about them.
A healthy partnership requires communication, respect, and good habits from both people. Conflict can be healthy if dealt with positively, and effective communication patterns make it easier to move on from conflict when it arises. But sometimes good communication is not enough. “When the conflict is taking hold on your relationship and when it becomes obvious that it’s not something you can resolve on your own, it’s time to seek help,” suggests Visser. “Counseling can help break fight habits and give you tools to improve your relationship.”