Conflict is an indication that your “relationship has not been attended to in some way.” It gives couples the opportunity to identify this issue, address it, improve it and move on to enjoying your healthy relationship.
Bush and Hendrix shared several tips for navigating conflict effectively.
Make an appointment to talk.
“When you have an issue with your partner, ask them if it’s OK to talk about it,” Hendrix said, which he calls “making an appointment.” This is important because not asking can trigger your partner’s anxiety, leading to a defensive reaction, he said. You might simply say, “Is now a good time?”
Talk about yourself.
Hendrix suggested using “I” statements, such as “I think, I feel, I hope, I want.” When your partner hears the word “you” – such as “you did this” or “why didn’t you do that” – this also can activate defensiveness, he said.
Pretend to be your partner.
Pretend that you’re looking through your partner’s eyes, Bush said. Describe aloud how you think your partner is feeling (e.g., a wife pretends to be her husband and says “I am Mike, and this is how I see it.”) Then your partner can respond by either agreeing or clarifying how they feel, she said.
Deal with conflict immediately.
“Anything hurtful and left unattended festers and grows bigger,” Hendrix said. That’s why “when there’s a breakdown, repair should occur immediately.”
Be specific about what you need or want.
“Ask for what you want in one or two sentences, and make it positive,” Hendrix said. By being specific, direct and concrete, you give your spouse a chance to meet your request.
For instance, instead of saying, “I wish you were always on time,” say, “The next time we have a movie or dinner date, I’d like that if you can’t make it, you’ll call me 15 minutes ahead of time, and let me know.”
“Conflict is inevitable, but it shouldn’t be the background music [of your relationship],” Bush said. She and Hendrix stressed the importance of showing your appreciation to your partner. For instance, you might say, “Thank you for listening to me” or “Thank you for sharing that,” Hendrix said.