How to Overcome Relationship Conflict
A lot of the stress in our lives comes from dealing other people.
Your boss has unrealistic expectations at work, your kids not behaving, coworkers not listening to your ideas, or your friends canceling plans at the last minute.
I’ve always found it funny that being around others gives us better mental health, while at the same time it is also the largest cause of stress in our life.
The irony isn’t lost on me.
Fights with your partner are by far the worst kind. Mostly because you actually care about them.
Also, conflict in the office usually stays there. Problems in your personal life can affect you at home and at your job.
Is there anything that can make fighting less negative?
In fact, there is something that can guard against the negative effects of conflict. And it seems the key factor is feeling understood.
So let’s take a look at some recent science that shows how understanding helps.
When the Gloves Come Off
I know the concept isn’t new. If someone asked you if understanding your partner was important in a relationship, the answer is obviously yes.
While understanding is important, research from the University of California finds that just feeling understood can buffer the negative effects of conflict.
Perception is a powerful thing.
The researchers ran a series of 7 different experiments and had their results published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Couples in their 20s and 30s who were in an ongoing relationship for at least 6 months were recruited for the studies. To understand how understanding and conflict interacted., the researchers used several research methods to test their hunches in the lab and real life.
They found that when people didn’t feel that their thoughts or feelings were understood, it negatively affected the happiness in their relationship.
One of the studies was a simple survey done by the couples. It revealed the more couples fought, the less satisfied they were with their relationship. Not really a big surprise. There was one big exception, though. Relationship satisfaction didn’t dip for partners who felt understood.
Another study had couples keep a diary over the course of a few weeks. Which is a common form of data collection which is useful for observation outside a lab environment. Here too, as long as people felt understood, there wasn’t a negative effect of conflict for the relationship.
An Experiment Surprise
One of the more interesting experiments they performed had couple come into the lab. For the express purpose of discussing a source of conflict while being videotaped.
I’m not sure I’d want to air my grievances in front of a public audience. So kudos to those brave souls.
After the exercise, the couple filled out surveys. The results confirmed the findings in the previous experiments, but it also revealed another interesting benefit.
Understanding not only made the conflict less damaging, but people came away feeling more satisfied about the relationship. And when one partner felt more understood, it also increased the happiness of the other party.
So when one person felt understood, it also caused the other party to feel more confident about the relationship. Conquering adversity together may truly make a relationship stronger.
Researchers acknowledged in the their paper that this could possibly be because it made people feel like they were in an actual partnership. Or maybe maybe because people feel like they were being taken care of.
Failing to Understand
There might be other explanations to explaining the results. But the scientists were careful to control for previous satisfaction levels in the relationship, behavior and tone during the fight, or even the issue at the heart of the conflict.
You might be the type of person that avoids conflict at all costs. But in the long run it’s not a healthy strategy. Approaching the situation with the right frame of mind might actually be beneficial.
In fact, the research team say there’s two ways where conflicts can fester.
First, is by not trying to see the other party’s concerns. So seek first to understand and then to be understood.
The second way is not believing that your partner is trying to understand. When they actually may be making every effort to do so.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you don’t get your way, that the other party simply doesn’t understand. Remember the best relationships find resolutions using compromise.