Resolving Emotional Conflict in Your Relationship

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Conflict and arguments are unavoidable in relationships; you won’t always be able to agree with your partner on everything. However, learning how to resolve conflict positively not only fosters communication, it also helps builds trust, happiness and security within a relationship. Here are some ways you can use emotional intelligence to help bring you and your partner closer together.

Taking your own emotional temperature

By getting a better handle on your emotional strengths and weaknesses through emotional intelligence, and by working to improve the most important areas, your intimate relationships can become more satisfying. You and your partner can become closer, overcome obstacles more easily, and enjoy each other more.

Using your emotional skills in your relationship can provide you with a number of different action plans:

  • Become more aware of your own emotions and how they can sometimes get in the way.

  • Develop skills to manage those emotions. Those skills can be simple, such as knowing when to hold your tongue, or more complicated, such as getting a good feel for where your partner is coming from. Of course, one cardinal rule involves knowing which battles are worth fighting.

  • Learn to differentiate real issues from minor annoyances in order to avoid unnecessary conflict in your relationship.

One of the toughest aspects of managing your relationship involves dealing with conflict. In intimate relationships, your emotions can really get out of control, and you’re more likely to say things that you later regret saying.

Whenever disagreeing with your partner, you need to take your own emotional temperature. When you feel your anger rising, stop and take a break. Hold back from getting into a screaming match with your partner. Count to ten. Take a deep breath. You have to prevent yourself from losing control.

By paying more attention to your emotions — the feeling in your gut, your heart rate, your skin sensation, shortness of breath, and the thoughts racing in your mind — you can effectively recognize what you’re feeling. By recognizing your feelings, you can more effectively control yourself.

When you start feeling out of control or overwhelmed by your emotions, you can appropriately intervene if you recognize those feelings. The sooner you recognize your feelings, the more easily you can change your direction.

Also, you can develop the ability to recognize, maintain, and increase positive feelings, such as happiness, love, surprise, wonder, relaxation, calmness, optimism, contentment, and others. Although life throws you nasty curves every now and then, you can become more resilient if you figure out how to recognize and cultivate these positive feelings. The more you experience positive feelings, the more easily you can draw on them, when needed.

Knowing what battles are worth fighting

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Diego Cervo 2007]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Diego Cervo 2007

All intimate partners have disagreements. Those disagreements can be over small things — which clothes to wear, where to go for dinner, what movie to see, what color looks better on you, and so on. Or they can be over the big things — I hate your parents, you’re too lenient with the kids, you’re spending too much money, you’re irresponsible, and so on.

Trying to change even one thing about another person is a big task. Trying to change a number of things about a person can be monumental. If you have disagreements with your partner, pick one that you want to tackle first. Here’s how to select the battle that you want to focus on:

  • Pick something doable. For example, don’t try to change beliefs that she’s had since childhood or convince him to lose 100 pounds on a diet.

  • Pick something meaningful, not trivial.

  • Select a behavior that your partner can change. Don’t pick a fundamental personality characteristic.

  • Define the change that you want as a behavior that you want your partner to increase.

  • Set a goal for how frequently you want this behavior to occur.

  • Be prepared to make a change in your own behavior, in return.

Put aside some of the small and relatively unimportant disagreements that you have with your significant other. Focus on one area in which you can make a difference. Set aside a time and a neutral place to discuss the issue. Have a calm discussion about what behavior you want to see your partner increase. Be prepared to state how that change can improve the relationship. Gauge your partner’s willingness to change.

Now, here’s an important part. In order to help motivate your partner, you need to offer some reward in return. Make this reward something that your partner values. Here are some examples:

  • Giving a back massage

  • Being intimate at certain times

  • Eating dinner out at a restaurant of your partner’s choice

  • Preparing a specific meal for your partner

  • Attending a certain cultural event (such as the opera or symphony) or sporting event (such as a baseball, basketball, or hockey game)

  • Cleaning up a part of the house

  • Giving your partner clothing or jewelry

  • Not nagging for a week

Make the reward meaningful and proportionate to the change that you’re asking for. Of course, be prepared to carry out the reward before you offer it. In your change-for-reward agreement, be as specific as possible. For example, you could say, “If you increase your behavior to four times over the next week, then I’ll give you three rewards on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evening before bed next week.”

Knowing when to hold your tongue

If you want to maintain a good relationship, you need to know when to shut up. Don’t try to win every argument, correct every wrong, or always be on top. Once in a while, you have to sit back and listen, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing.

After you take in an earful, then you can calmly think about what your partner said. Some of it might be wrong, vindictive, ugly, unfair, or demeaning. However, she may have presented a kernel of truth in the criticism. Okay, relax.

By keeping civil and not getting drawn into an argument, you’re not admitting guilt. Often, people think that if they don’t respond at least as noisily, they’re accepting the blame. Keeping your cool is a virtue. Being a hothead doesn’t win points in the long run. In fact, people who constantly lose their temper often aren’t taken seriously by others. They tend to be regarded as immature. Many people learn to avoid them.

Using empathy to enhance your relationship

By being empathic, you chalk up credits in your marital bank account. You avoid debits — because you’re not negative. You gain credits — because you’re positive, caring, and working towards the good of the relationship.

Being empathic doesn’t mean that you give in or admit that you’re wrong. Instead, using empathy means that you’re truly trying to understand the other person’s point of view and validating your partner’s feelings. Being empathic doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to solve the problem. But it puts you in a more conciliatory state. It allows you to focus on the problem and not create another problem — yelling and shouting at each other — which often causes more harm to the relationship than the original problem.


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