by Nathan Chua
If there is one thing that can be named as something that is certain to happen among couples, it is conflict. There is a familiar quip among those in the helping business, that people will not hesitate to spend millions for a wedding, but can’t seem to fork out a few thousands for therapy. Couples are mostly unaware of this absurdity. They prepare for an elaborate wedding ceremony, that has little to no consequence on the long-term health of their relationship.
Anyway, since it is no longer a question of whether conflicts will arise or not, it is a matter of how such disagreements can draw two people together, rather than drive them apart.
Here are what come to mind:
Be factual, not historical
Yes, it is unfair for anyone in a relationship to keep bringing past hurts to spite the other. Remember, I added the qualifier, “To spite the other.” Please note though that it is not always wrong to raise past hurts. However, airing those concerns at the outset, will mean you don’t have to bring them up in the future.
Mind reading vs. expressing desires
I have seen this play out in the counseling room countless times. Couples feel uncomfortable asking for what they want. In their minds, their partners should already know without being told. On top of this, they are just as uncomfortable when their partners do the very thing they ask for, thinking it is contrived and insincere.
Don’t be afraid to say what you want and what you need. You will have differences in the ways you express and receive love. Try to be open, honest and assertive.
Demanding instead of wishing
When you voice out what you want, make sure to express it as a wish, rather than a demand. Unfortunately, this does not always work when there is so much contempt built up. I recommend doing this with a counselor, who can help you express your wishes and be heard.
Overgeneralizations vs. specificity
Words like, “always” and “never,” normally arouse anger or defensiveness in your partner. Be specific. Try to focus on the act that you wish did not happen, for these acts don’t usually happen, “always.”
Denial vs. ownership
This is one of the most critical skills that couples need to learn. Without this, couples will be locked in an unending blame game, trying to win a battle to determine who started it all.
Ownership gives your partner a sign that you are mature enough to acknowledge your imperfections. Denial will drive you further into fierce arguments. Accept your humanity by knowing you both have a role in your struggles.
For a last word, understand that conflicts are not to be avoided. In fact, they should be welcomed. To use a rather crude analogy, boxers are in the end expected to go up the ring and fight. However, they are also expected to do so under rules that would make it fair.
In relationships, fighting can be healthy, only if it is done fairly.