How to Increase Relationship Closeness through Conflict
By Ernestina Perez
All relationships involve having difficult conversations. Marital therapist John Gottman states, "conflict in marriage is inevitable" and "although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts". It seems that what differentiates disagreements from being normal to unhealthy is whether partners feel heard and understood. When couples can communicate effectively during conflict, their relationship becomes more mature and stronger. We can all identify with feeling defensive and maybe even saying hurtful things in the heat of an argument. Recognizing this and working toward repair is vital. Arguments are debilitating to the relationship when a partner turns it into a personal attack, shames the other, or tries to lower the other’s self-esteem. A continual pattern of this can turn into verbal abuse where one partner cannot express feelings because of fear of retaliation. So how can you make sure that conflict does not hurt your relationships and instead help it grow? Below are some guidelines from negotiations expert Sheila Sheen to help you do just that.The Structure of a Difficult Conversation: Three conversations in One
The “What Happened” Conversation
The Feelings Conversation
The Identity Conversation
These guidelines can be helpful to foster understanding and help conflict be an opportunity for learning about the other. It is important to remember that couples relationships, like all human relationships, are complex and imperfect. If you and your partner are stuck on a specific conflict and it is creating emotional disconnection and hurt in your relationship consider seeing a couples therapist.
Gottman, John Mordechai.Silver, Nan. (1999) The seven principles for making marriage work New York : Crown Publishers.
Stone, D., Patton, B., Heen, S. (1999). Difficult conversations: how to discuss what matters most.
New York: Penguin. ISBN: 0 14 02.8852X