The article gave some interesting insights into the correlation between couples who cannot fight healthily and the poor health they experience as a consequence. So should we avoid fighting? No, we need to be able to disagree with our partners and express our emotions. So how do we do this healthily?
Couples who manage conflict well are able to undertake four key tasks:
- Accept difference
The idea of listening to our partner sounds like the easiest thing in the world. After all, we do it all the time. However, truly listening means hearing how they are feeling rather than focusing on the content or facts. The facts matter as context, but your partner’s feelings are what is key.
Accepting difference in our partner can be really hard, especially when we have learnt that difference threatens a relationship. For example, we may have learned that we were not allowed to have our own subjective experience of the world when we were growing up. Perhaps our parent(s) expected us to enjoy what they enjoyed or they simply told us we were wrong when we expressed a negative or strong emotion. If this is the case, then it is likely that we will experience a difference in opinion with a partner as threatening.
Validation is a behaviour and state of being requiring empathy. To validate our partner means seeing them as separate to us and letting them know that we can accept their experience. It does not mean making them right and us wrong. This is often where couples stumble as they subscribe to the idea that there can only be one correct perspective.
Lastly, healthy and happy couples are really good at repairing their relationship and nurturing themselves and their partner after a fight. The health of the couple unit can often be gauged by how soon a couple moves through the four tasks, ending in repair. Couples who do this within an hour or two of a fight generally have better communication and are emotionally healthier than those who take days or weeks to repair their relationship.
These four tasks may seem simple, but the reality is that many couples simply never master them without support and guidance.
Mark Vahrmeyer is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist working in private practice.