Making Relationships Work

14 December 2020 15:00


Even the strongest of relationships can be hard work.

With precious few notable exceptions, most relationships will go through some difficult times. It’s only natural, even for a species as socially-minded as ours that we have our fights and disagreements. Living in close quarters can serve to amplify these occasions and provide fertile ground for miscommunication and misunderstandings to spiral out of control. Add in the complex dynamics of romantic partnership and the issues can become very complex, very quickly. 

 

With that in mind, let's look at some of the ways that couples can resolve disagreements, both before and after they escalate:

Know Your Issues

Whilst this might seem simple, in truth it can be anything but. Identifying what can be the underlying issue can be tough, but what might be easier is thinking about the recurring patterns that occur in arguments and how to address them.

Often even the most communicative of couples can shroud their true feelings and fail to tackle problems head-on. This isn’t necessarily bad or done sheerly out of cowardice, but is rather, often a sign that we value the feelings of others and want to do whatever we can to avoid hurting them. Be mindful and think about what might really be motivating you. 

 

“You always say that”

With that said, it’s important not to cloud the issue by bringing up others. Stick to the topic at hand and its underlying causes. When disagreements arise it can be tempting to bring up past arguments and or other, non-related points of contention, but in reality, this is only likely to make things escalate even further. This is especially so if the information is brought up purely to score emotional ‘points’ by provoking feelings of guilt.

 

Find Areas of Agreement

No matter what the argument, there’s usually some underlying areas of agreement and identifying this can be helpful - if you have cool enough heads to see it at the time. Acknowledging these areas is important because it can help create a sense of unity and remind you both that the relationship is not an antagonistic one, but one that is meant to be mutually caring and supportive.

It’s important to note, however, that this is very different from simply agreeing with someone in order to avoid an argument. Whilst it might be tempting to do and seem like the path of least resistance, in the long run, there’s the chance that it can simply build up embitterment against a partner without them potentially even being aware of it. 

 

What are they thinking?

This point leads neatly into the next: empathy. Sadly none of us are telepathic, but it can be helpful to be mindful of what our partner may be thinking and feeling. 

This applies to the long term, not just in the heat of an argument, and goes beyond mere emotional empathy and synchronicity. 

It can help to look at your own values and beliefs and look at how they match with your partner’s - are they similar or are they different? Could these be the underlying cause of the issue? Perhaps they agree with you, but simply feel like they have less control than you do over the relationship. Such a power imbalance, even if only perceived can be a real source of resentment over the long term.

 

Recognize the root cause

This brings us full circle to identifying the root cause of the dispute, only this time trying to focus more on what may be the underlying issues for your partner. However upset or irrational they might seem to you at a particular moment, remember that people seldom get angry for no reason. That underlying reason might be you and your actions, but it could also be because of something you’re not fully aware of. Even something as simple as a bad day at work might be enough to exacerbate what otherwise might seem like only a relatively trivial issue.

 

Communication, Communication, Communication.

If there’s one unifying theme throughout all of the above it’s that healthy couples are those that communicate the best. This can be useful not just for heading off arguments before they arise but descalating them when they do. With the right approach, different forms of therapy can help people achieve the strong communication skills needed to be an active listener: to be able to see through the red mist and remain objective in the heat of the moment.

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