How do you handle conflict in your relationship? Today, I want to give you some insights into your conflict style with your partner. There are three different types of conflict resolution that we often see in relationships, but only one of them is ideal.
1. Offensive vs. Defensive
The most common style is when one partner loves to address the issue, and wants to bring it up right away. Unfortunately, they often go on the attack as they do so and they come across as being critical. For example, instead of saying, “Hey sweetie, can you give me an update on how you are registering our son for school?”, they will say “You forgot to register him for school. What the heck!”. They will start a dialogue with a criticism. Folks who address with an attack often have a significant other who balances out their temperament by being avoidant.
The avoidant partner who already knows they forgot to register their kid for school won’t bring it up to avoid conflict. Avoiders will often go on the retreat when their partner is upset until they reach a breaking point where they will defend themselves. This address and attack versus avoid and retreat dynamic gets the couple nowhere quickly. The criticism and the defensiveness in the room will break down all conflict resolution.
The second type of conflict style we see in relationships are the conflict avoiders. These are the couples who will sit in my office and tell me “It’s fine” until I receive an emergency email from a spouse asking to see me individually because they are considering leaving their relationship overnight. That’s because conflict avoidant couples are so concerned about upsetting the apple cart that they don’t lean in to voice their needs until they’re at their breaking point. They end up bouncing between an avoidant and destabilized place, not realizing there’s something more effective in the middle of those two extremes.
The third conflict resolution style that we all strive for has important qualities. You’re going to have to stay relatively calm as you manage your physiology, your feelings, and your temper. You can be assertive about your needs without being aggressive or hurtful. The most important part is taking ownership. “You know what, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier that I forgot to register Jimmy for school. That’s on me. I can see how you would have appreciated if I would have told you myself instead of finding out another way.” Couples who can embody this third model of conflict resolution have a greater confidence in themselves and in their relationship. That gives them permission to own the fact that they mess up sometimes, but they still bring many gifts and talents to their relationship. They don’t need to hide from their imperfection. They can simply own it when they mess up.
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