News flash: You and your husband are not always going to get along. Undoubtedly, you’ve already encountered a few bumps in the road, and how you navigate them can mean the difference between a flat tire or a broken axel. By setting good conflict resolution habits now, keeping the peace will seem more like routine maintenance rather than a budget-busting trip to the repair shop.
Fortunately, Carolina Bride has called in your very AAA agent. Couples therapist Mona Barbera, Ph.D. has been educating couples on good communication for over 30 years and has been featured in Men’s Fitness, Cosmopolitan, and Better Homes and Gardens magazines. Now, she’s sharing with Carolina Bride her five tips for dealing with conflict in your relationship.
Give better back “Giving better back is the most necessary and the most difficult thing to do in surviving engagement conflict,” says Mona. “That means giving what you’re not getting and seeing what happens.” Oftentimes people are very aware of what they’re not getting in a relationship, and the anger that results is just as bad. Mona suggests transforming that anger into a tone of generosity. “Take a chance. Give what you’re not getting. Most likely the person will hear what you’re saying much better.” Show seven appreciations “Happy couples give seven times more appreciation than criticism,” says Mona. When you find yourself saying things like, “He should have…,” ask yourself if you’ve given your appreciations first. While this may seem like an invitation to be walked over, this exercise is about cultivating your sense of inner peace during conflict, rather than resentment. “This is about you having better energy… being more powerful and serene within yourself,” Mona explains. “If you stay calm, you can better observe the other person.”
Gauge your reactions “If it’s intense, it’s your own,” says Mona. If your reaction to what your future mate is doing is intensely disturbing and all you can feel is how upset you are, it’s really about you, she explains. Those feelings are there for a reason, but be sure to not express them until you find out what’s going on inside you first. “When you’re consumed by your feelings, you can’t express them very well.” Discuss your grievances when you can acknowledge the problem yet still remain lighthearted. Before you speak up, make sure you’re emotionally connected to your mate. “You want to have that you’re-the-one-I-give-kisses-to-at-night feeling,” says Mona. Then, be prepared to hear something back about yourself first — something that could sting. “If you expect it, you’ll be ready,” Mona says. Stay calm, connected and clear, but don’t react. Your partner will get the message in a few minutes.
Brainstorm, don’t blamestorm It’s OK to discuss one another’s annoying habits, as long as it doesn’t turn into a grudge-match. “When the blame turns on, the brain turns off. You can have a brainstorm as long as you’re not having a blamestorm,” says Mona. If you feel yourself staring to get defensive, be honest about your emotions. Tell your partner: “I am feeling defensive right now, and I can’t listen.” Then take a break and come back to the discussion. “You are going to be defensive — no doubt about it,” Mona says. “But try to have some curiosity about what the other person is saying.”
Do a do-over People inevitably get into conflict during times of stress such as planning a wedding. If an evening is ruined and your other efforts have failed, it’s perfectly acceptable to just call a do-over. “But it means you doing it over, not the other person,” Mona explains. “This is likely to instigate your partner to want to do a do-over as well.” Showing by example how you are changing things in yourself will oftentimes change your partner more than you trying to push them.
Mona’s book, “Bring Yourself to Love: How Couples Can Turn Disconnection Into Intimacy,” is available online and in bookstores.