Conflict styles in couples.
All relationships have conflict from time to time. Conflict can result from reoccurring past issues, a clash of ideas or a disagreement about how or when to do something. How couples react to conflict with their partner varies. Personality and temperament play their part as well as the behavior we witnessed as children from parents and caregivers when they engaged in conflict. Some children saw their parents engage in loud aggressive verbal fights and some may have also witnessed physical abuse. Verbal or aggressive conflict styles can be traumatising for children and creates fear and anxiety. Other children came from families where overt conflict was considered inappropriate. behaviors or coexisting in silence. Conflict avoiders can cause children to feel confused and anxious about family relationships and unable to deal with conflict when they encounter it themselves. Some children witness opposite conflict styles in their parents which can be overwhelming and baffling for a young child to make sense of.
These early learnings impact on children’s psyche and have an influence on how they will respond to conflict scenarios when they become adults. Some people are destined to repeat what they experienced as children others will do the opposite. Therefore, someone who witnessed overt conflict growing up will either repeat the conflict style of their parents or become a conflict avoider. There are no hard and fast rules about how we develop our individual conflict styles but we do know for the most part they are learned behaviours.
Conflict happens when an external event triggers powerful emotions. Feelings of irritation, frustration, sadness or disappointment arise as a result. For some people, strong and powerful emotions are too difficult to manage. If you cannot manage your emotion’s they are likely to escalate and spill out into a conflict situation with your partner. Conflicts further escalate when couples engage in negative interactions such as criticising or blaming each other for what’s occurred as well as stonewalling each other rather than work towards resolution.
Having the ability to manage our emotions is a personal development skill. It takes practice, understanding, discipline and courage on your part to regulate your behavior.
If your emotions spill out to such a degree that they cause harm to others is not acceptable. The responsibly for managing your emotions is yours and yours alone. The fact you have been triggered by something your partner has said or done may cause you to feel intensely sad or angry but those feelings have to be managed sooner or later by you. Far better to take a time out to calm your emotions before going back to discuss what’s upset you. Being able to manage those bigger emotions is key to you being a good manager of conflict.
A good first step in correcting negative interactions is to actively avoid seeing conflict as a battle you have to win, or, a competition about who is right or wrong. When you do that you push your partner into a corner and they have nowhere else to go. Some people come out fighting others will shut down. Remember, as a couples you don’t always have to agree with each other but being able to negotiate differences in respectful ways reduces the possibility of conflict escalating. Developing strategies to defuse a conflict before it gets off the ground is imperative to avoiding habitual conflict patterns forming.
One of the most important skills in communication is learning the art of empathic listening. Empathic listening goes a very long way to making your partner feel acknowledged and heard by you. Most people react negatively to feeling judged and criticised so understanding and practicing empathic listening is a positive way forward for you both.
If you find change to difficult, consider seeing a couple’s counsellor who will help you learn positive communication skills to deal with conflict.
If you are unable to manage your own emotions and they are causing harm to you or others, individual counselling maybe a good first step. Counselling is a safe none-judgmental space where you can freely talk about your feelings and learn how to help yourself manage emotions.
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