Conflict with your partner getting you down? Feeling like you aren't understood or appreciated? Tired of bickering and hurt feelings? Even though this sounds like a cheesy commercial read on...
It doesn't have to be this way. Many couples are experiencing one of two things right now it seems - either their relationship is flourishing because the daily stressors are minimized (you know, who is taking Susie to soccer practice and who is cooking dinner, etc.). Or the problems in the relationship are brought to the surface and are bubbling over because couples are spending more time together and don't have their usual outlets for stress. Add on childcare/home schooling, possible financial stress, and trying to juggle work and it's a recipe for conflict.
I'm not a couples therapist (in fact I dabbled in that early on in my private practice career and I quickly realized I prefer working with individuals) but I have some knowledge and training of how couples can communicate effectively. So, here are some basic tips that I share with my clients and they usually report back it helps improve communication and decrease conflict with their partner.
I'll call them Partner Harmony Tips and Tricks.
#1. Get rid of the "me versus you" mentality. You are a team. It may not feel like it in the moment but start looking at your conflict as "US versus PROBLEM". Your job is to figure out as a team how to solve the problem. For example: Wife thinks husband doesn't help out as much as he should around the house. Husband thinks wife nags. They won't get very far if they approach the problem against each other. BUT if they approach it as a team that the problem is she feels unsupported and he feels nagged too much, and they need to figure out a way together to fix the issue, they are much more likely to solve the problem. And in doing so, they feel heard by one another which fosters closeness and connection.
#2. Schedule weekly relationship check-ins. We have regular staff meetings at work to discuss problems and solve issues, why not at home? By scheduling a 15-30 minute intentional check in it helps couples discuss anything that has come up throughout the week that needs to be addressed. It also can be expanded as time spent talking about family business items such as budgeting, meal planning, etc. But by setting a time weekly you are setting the stage of having a conversation with your spouse about your relationship. Yes, you and your partner are busy but if you have time to scroll through facebook or watch Netflix, you have time to invest into your relationship.
#3. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Too often we automatically assume our partner is working against us when in actuality our partner simply doesn't understand us or we don't take the time to understand him or her. For example, husband is in a bad mood when he comes home due to stress at work. He gives wife short answers to her questions and heads off on a run. Wife then gets annoyed and feels shut out by him. Husband gets home from run and wife starts argument about how he spoke to her. What if wife recognized signs that her husband was stressed and knows that he needs time to internally process and running is a way for him to do this? If she gave him the benefit of the doubt she likely wouldn't have become annoyed and taken his short answers personally. She may have interacted in a more supportive manner by saying something like, "I'm here if you want to talk about it. Why don't you go on a run to relieve some stress?" This statement would have fostered communication and understanding, which is likely what husband needed in that moment. Giving our spouse the benefit of the doubt, or grace, can go a long way in a relationship.
#4. Take the emotion out of the conversation. Ever wonder why a fight usually starts off with a seemingly benign comment and within minutes escalates into fighting about something that seems so far from where it started? An argument about whose turn it is to do the dishes somehow turns into rehashing mistakes and fights from 10 years ago? And usually when this happens the dishes still sit dirty in the sink only the couple is now fuming mad at one another. Sound familiar?
Too often in arguments we let our emotions do the talking which leads to stronger tones, raised voices, tears, or saying hurtful things which only fuels more conflict. Couples who communicate well take the emotion out of the conversation. This doesn't mean they don't have feelings but it helps them approach dialogue more calmly and with a focused purpose. Start by talking to your partner like you would a colleague you have a disagreement with. Take a deep breath when you find yourself getting irritated or tense to calm your tone. Make a pact with your partner to talk calmly as well as listen to what the other is saying. With practice you will find your disagreements lead to improved communication because you both feel heard AND you aren't getting caught up in the weeds of past mishaps. The focused problem is dealt with reasonably and much more quickly.
#5. Respect Each Other's Needs. Couples often get upset with one another when they don't understand why their partner does or needs certain things. One may be an introvert and get frustrated that their extroverted spouse likes to spend time out with friends. Introvert may feel unimportant because they aren't "good enough" for extrovert to spend time every night reading next to each other on the couch. Extrovert gets frustrated that introvert never seems to want to do anything social with friends. Cue conflict. But, if we recognize our own unique needs and personalities as simply different and not wrong, we can take steps to support our partner while getting our own needs met too. Ask each other what gives them energy and fills their cup? Talk about family schedules and make a plan that works for both of you. No, it may not be reasonable that extrovert goes out with friends six nights/week but maybe one or two works well. Maybe introvert will go to that barbecue if he/she gets a few hours of down time earlier that day. By respecting these needs we feel better individually which leads to feeling better as a couple. And when we have mutual respect, guess what? Communication and connectivity also improves!
So, there you have it. 5 tips and tricks to a more harmonious relationship. Try them out and see if they help. It takes consistency, time, and work, but you can improve your relationship with your teammate. And when you feel heard and supported your relationship can thrive, even during a pandemic.