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Dating & Relationships

Many people believe a good relationship is one where no one fights. But I believe just the opposite. Of course I don’t believe that picking fights, or constant disagreement, makes for hopeful partnerships, but I do believe that with healthy conflict comes resolution—and that is the mark of a solid relationship.

I’m a big believer in conflict resolution. If two people are focused on solving their problems and resolving conflicts, they are off to a positive start. But how does that work? What should happen?

I’ll start by saying that I’m obviously not talking about toxic behavior, abuse or neglect. Those are clear markers of a bad relationship, and if you are in the midst of any of those experiences, please seek help and get yourself out of the situation.

But beyond that, within a relationship that is reasonable, here’s what should not happen: blame, denial, stubbornness, clamming up or shutting down. These reactions will get you, and the relationship, nowhere. In fact, it’s likely the partnership won’t succeed if this is how two people always communicate. Think of  any relationship—familial, work related, friendly or otherwise—that was headed in the wrong direction, and then think about how you dealt with conflict.

Over the years, as a teacher I’ve taken many conflict resolution courses. They were invaluable to me and helped to improve my relationships with my family, friends and my then-spouse.

One of the most important things I learned is that language is an immediate balm to the situation. This is not only the gift wrapping, but the skill is a gift in itself. There are a few types of language I want to cover.

1. Verbal language. Start to speak in low, not quite hushed, but quiet tones. Speak slowly and make sure to articulate your words. If it isn’t possible because you’re too heated, don’t speak until it is. If you’re a  yeller, this will be a challenge but you can practice (more on that later).

2. Body language. Try not to fold your arms, put your hands on your hips, tap your foot, roll your eyes, shake your head, make fists, look heavenward or keep your gaze to the floor. Try to sit, if at all possible. Keep your posture lifted and open. Look at each other—eye contact does wonders. During training, I’ve heard some lecturers advise couples to hold hands, or rub each other’s backs, (but at that point, I’d guess the situation is resolved).

The second way language is important is in the words you use.

3. Choose your words wisely. The word “bad” gets you nowhere. How could anyone learn from, “I feel bad” or “What you did to me was bad”? Be specific. Really identify how you feel: betrayed or disappointed? Unheard, ignored, or dismissed? The more specific you are, the more information you give your partner, and the more doors become open to resolution.

4. Reflect. A spiritual director I went to once advised that, in the heat of the moment, or when reflecting, think of 5-7 different emotions you’re feeling at that moment. Look at the last two, they’re usually the most honest.

For that moment, you don’t need to explain why. Maybe your partner, if it’s a really crucial argument, could ask why, or could start to understand what’s going on with you.

5. Avoid absolutes. It’s unlikely your partner “always” or “never” does something. It sounds like you’re not paying attention to the times your partner is not doing what you accused. It also immediately puts the other on the defensive by stating the obvious: “I don’t ALWAYS do that!” Point out a particular scenario as an example, or maybe two examples, instead. That will get you somewhere positive in the end.

Language, both verbal and physical, are two powerful ways to turn an argument around completely. If you can get these skills under your belt, your communication style will improve.

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3 Comments

  1. Erin-997783 September 22, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more with this. Certain people have terrible communication skills as a result of poor communication within the family they were raised in. This has an inevitable trickle down effect into romantic relationships, unfortunately. I’m sad to say that I know first hand how it feels to have all fingers pointed at me (blamed) unfairly, unheard, neglected, abused, abandoned, basically all of the above. I never want to experience that again in my life. EVER.

  2. Carole-990118 September 25, 2013

    I was married in the Catholic Church with full sincerity of it being for a lifetime . We had children right away, I was 40 and he was 43 and time was ticking as they say. We had dayed for 6 years. tWhat I didn’t know was that he had a girlfriend before our engagement, at the time of our wedding , honeymoon, and while we were trying to conceive. I was not pregnant before we were married and there was no reason for him to
    do this. I didn’t force him. He traveled a lot and when I caught him we had a beautiful 5 month old boy. He promised , we went to catholic Family Couseling. Shortly thereafter I got pregnant, totally planned.
    He started again with someone else but this time he started
    being very unkind, no mean.
    Back to counseling. Ultimately we divorced.
    How do I date a catholic man when I am not allowed to marry in the church. To annul the marriage, which I doubt is possible, wouldn’t I be denying my boys a legitimate child? I’m confused. I have been on a dating site after 10 years divorced and everyone seems to be Protestant. But if I met a catholic man, then what?
    I know you have heard this story before.
    Carole

    • Cate Perry September 26, 2013

      Hi Carole!
      Thank you for your comments. In your situation, you would do well to contact Lisa Duffy, our resident expert in divorce and annulment issues. God be with you on your journey!

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