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8.02.2016

For stronger relationships, practice conflict management

Conflict is inevitable—in fact, it can be a normal part of a healthy relationship. Couples are made up of individuals who have their own opinions, outlooks and ideas and it’s impossible to be in sync 100 percent of the time. This is especially true when common hot button subjects arise, such as negotiating chores, managing finances, disciplining the kids, politics, or even where to go on vacation. But managing conflicts properly can provide opportunities for growth, improved communication and greater understanding within relationships.

What conflict management can teach you

When you handle conflict in a healthy manner with your partner, you learn more about him or her as well as yourself, deepening your bond. Plus, the skills you gain to manage conflict successfully with your partner can easily transfer to all other relationships. You’ll make deeper connections and reduce unnecessary strife, discord and misunderstanding with friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, even sales people and others you interact with on a daily basis. It’s a recipe for better physical and mental health and improved well-being!

Try these tips to better manage conflict:

Be attentive. Conflicts often arise when one person feels like they are not being heard. Active listening requires you to fully listen to what the other person is saying as well as observe their body language while acknowledging and remembering what is being said. Is their jaw tense? Is there fidgeting? These body signals can help you gauge your partner’s present emotional state.

Keep calm. Controlling your emotions, using neutral language and an even tone of voice can prevent a conflict from escalating.  Avoid getting angry, using profanities and name calling.  If you feel your anger rising, follow the age-old advice to “count to 10” before responding.

Use “I” statements. Saying things like, “you always do this” or “you make me upset” can cause people to become defensive. When people speak, most of what we say is subjective, meaning that it’s from our own perspective. It’s important to convey this by choosing words that can help diffuse conflict.  Rather than using “you” rephrase to say “I feel upset when…”

Don’t point fingers. During conflict, it’s easy to think that one person is more at fault than the other. But when you are in a conflict, all parties involved should take ownership of the situation.

Don’t look for winners and losers. Make a commitment to each other to find a solution that is agreeable to both of you. For example, if you are arguing about which family holiday gathering you should attend, rather than choosing one event over the other, divide your time equally between the families. Or agree to alternate your attendance at upcoming events.

Don’t dredge up the past. When tensions are high, it’s tempting to use previous disagreements to fuel the current argument, but this makes matters worse. Instead, focus only on the issue at hand and reaching a resolution.

Recognize unhealthy conflict. When conflicts become unhealthy it can lead toward emotional, verbal and even physical abuse. If you feel threatened, frightened, controlled or attacked during conflict with someone, it is important that you seek help.

For Health Advocate members

If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life Program, call us today to connect with a Licensed Professional Counselor who can help you build healthy communication skills, identify the signs of an unhealthy relationship, and find resources and referrals for long-term assistance.  And if you have access to our advocacy services, our Personal Health Advocates are happy to help you resolve your healthcare and insurance-related issues and questions, such as locating in-network providers, securing second opinions, transferring medical records, resolving billing and claims issues, and more. We’re always at your side—and always grateful for the opportunity to help you.