Conflict is a predictable part of virtually all relationships. It can also be a significant source of stress. Therefore, with most conflicts, it’s important to find a resolution. This seems like a statement of the obvious, but many people suppress their anger or just ‘go along to get along.’ They think that by addressing a conflict, they are creating one, and simply keep quiet when upset. Unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy long-term strategy.
Unresolved conflict can lead to resentment and additional unresolved conflict in the relationship. Even more important, ongoing conflict can actually have a negative impact on your health and longevity.
Unfortunately, resolving conflict can be tricky as well. Handled improperly, attempts at conflict resolution can actually make the conflict worse. For example, researcher John Gottman and his colleagues studied the way couples fight, and can actually predict which couples will go on to divorce by observing their conflict resolution skills—or lack thereof. (Hint: If you’re constantly criticizing your partner’s character, or shutting down during arguments rather than working through conflict in a proactive, respectful way, watch out.)
For those who weren’t born into a family where perfect conflict resolution skills were modeled on a daily basis (and—let’s face it—how many of us were?), here are some guidelines to make conflict resolution more simple and less stressful.
Get in Touch With Your Feelings
An important component of conflict resolution involves only you—knowing how you feel and why you feel that way. It may seem that your feelings should already be obvious to you, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you feel angry or resentful, but don’t know why. Other times, you feel that the other person isn’t doing what they ‘should,’ but you aren’t aware of exactly what you want from them, or if it’s even reasonable.
Journaling can be an effective way to get in touch with your own feelings, thoughts, and expectations so you are better able to communicate them to the other person. Sometimes this process brings up some pretty heavy issues, and psychotherapy can be helpful.
Hone Your Listening Skills
When it comes to effective conflict resolution, how effectively we listen is at least as important as how effectively we express ourselves. It’s vital to understand the other person’s perspective, rather than just our own if we are to come to a resolution. In fact, just helping the other person feel heard and understood can sometimes go a long way toward the resolution of a conflict. Good listening also helps for you to be able to bridge the gap between the two of you, understand where the disconnect lies, etc.