The communication game

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, but how you navigate it is key. The good news is that it is possible to learn how to ‘fight fairly’ and create positive communication with your partner.

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“Usually when we talk about communication, straight away we tend to go into conflict resolution. We think about it in terms of conflict and solving problems, but the most important thing is positive communication – to try to get to know your partner. To communicate your love,” says Anna Nauka, a therapist with MyMind.

Positive communication is the type of interaction that helps to foster feelings of love and this can have a huge impact when it comes to dealing with conflicts. Anna says that we should make time every day to communicate positively with our partner.

“Sometimes I recommend to schedule a time, even if it’s ten minutes in the evening to sit with a cup of tea and to talk to your partner and be interested in their world.”

The whole point of this, says Anna, is to continue to get to know them.

“Try to get to know them because it is really important to update [your] knowledge about your partner. To see how they change over time, especially if it’s a long-term relationship. Over the years we can change. We can like different things, there’s different things that can be important to us, so it’s important to keep in touch with that,” she says.

So what should we do when we inevitably face a conflict?

“It’s completely natural to have problems and disagreements so actually conflict is, I would say, even a welcome and healthy thing in a relationship. If you have two adult people coming from different backgrounds with different beliefs, there will always be some kind of a conflict. The important thing is how you resolve it or how you approach it so it doesn’t escalate – so you don’t get critical or nasty towards each other,” says Anna.

“Problems in the relationship can be solvable. The little everyday things, we try to solve them and negotiate something that we both feel will resolve it. Sometimes it means that we have to accept influence from our partner. Sometimes it means that I have to give something so that maybe next time you can give something. That’s what good negotiating is. It’s more possible to resolve these problems.”

But what about the more intense problems that a couple is likely to face?

“On the other side we have problems that are, we call them, perpetual problems. They might appear over time in the relationship and research has shown that 69 per cent of the problems people experience in their relationships are perpetual issues. So they’re coming back again and again and again,” says Anna.

“And people might keep fighting about the same things and might find themselves growing in their resentment towards their partner not knowing how to resolve them. These problems are important to talk about, to keep the dialogue open – to not get too gridlocked around them and to try to understand what’s your partner’s point of view and why is it so important for them? Try not to push your point of view and your beliefs towards [your partner]. Keep the dialogue open.”

When it comes to fighting fair, an essential part of the process is to approach it with a willingness to hear what your partner is saying.

“And the other important thing is to keep the escalation down,” advises Anna.

“Very often when we fight with our partner we get into this fight-or-flight response which is completely natural. It’s our body reacting... Our focus narrows down and we start seeing our partner as an enemy that we have to overcome.

“That’s when the conflict gets into that state of trying to win and trying to battle your partner. That’s when we should really stop talking and leave it for 15-20 minutes to calm down.”

It’s important to remember that your priority should be not to win the fight, but to resolve it in a way that works for you both. Remember – be willing to compromise and see your partner’s point of view and don’t be afraid to hit the pause button if things are getting escalated.

Sometimes there are problems that can’t be solved, no matter how willing both parties are to communicate and Anna says there are certain situations where couples should consider seeking the help of a qualified couples’ therapist.

“There are four things that happen in a relationship that might lead to break-up and distance... they are criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness or not taking responsibility for the relationship. If these happen and they repeat themselves, especially contempt [that] is the huge one, then maybe it’s good to talk to somebody about it,” says Anna.

“The other thing is perpetual issues. If we experience a gridlock around these issues where we just try to push our partner and they try and push on us and we just can’t get out of it and it’s growing resentment, then maybe it’s a good time as well to have somebody outside [the relationship] look at it with a different perspective.”

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