When I first met Mark I thought he was James Bond, he picked me up for our first date on his enormous motorbike and underneath his leathers he wore a dinner jacket. We were the last to leave the Italian restaurant that night and three years later we were married.
We had our first major row on our honeymoon, after which the floodgates seemed to open and suddenly we were arguing about lots of things. I thought I had met my soulmate, so why were we continually disagreeing with each other? I felt really unhappy, arguing was stressful and I remember really hoping it wasn’t always going to be like that.
Dr. Gottman, a relationships expert with over 40 years of experience, says: “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”
So what are the best ways of managing disagreements?
Every relationship is different, and there are reasons for disagreements, but at the root are two people with different backgrounds, experiences, personalities and expectations. It’s those differences that contribute to the ways we handle struggles. When we argue powerful emotions are triggered in our brains and ‘fight or flight’ responses come into play. These can overwhelm us, leading us to behave in unhelpful ways unless we learn to control them.
Some people ‘explode’, expressing their emotions openly. Often exploders shout and say things they later regret. A few might lash out physically, perhaps leading to violence and abuse and if this is the case it’s important to seek professional support (whether you are the one with the anger problem or the one on the receiving end). Unless people who explode learn to manage their emotions they will hurt others and themselves, because they tend to frighten off the people they long to be close to.
Other people ‘stuff’ or bottle up their feelings, internalising them. They may deny or ignore emotions; withdraw and get defensive. Some people get back at their partner in subtle ways, such as overspending or forgetting to do something accidentally on purpose! A partner may not even be aware that he or she is doing this, which is why it’s referred to as passive aggressive behaviour. People who stuff their emotions hurt others because they’re not open with their feelings, making them hard to know and relate to. But they also hurt themselves, because suppressed anger or other painful feelings can lead to bitterness, resentment, ulcers, high blood pressure and even depression.
If you see anger as a signal that something is wrong and requires action, it can be a positive thing!
Toucan Together’s Conflict Module explores ways people handle anger. Work out your typical conflict style: whether you’re a rhino, hedgehog, ostrich or scapegoat and learn positive approaches whatever animal you relate to.
Strong emotions affect the person feeling them and the person on the receiving end. This can cloud our judgement so we’re less able to make good decisions. We also tend to see situations from our own point of view and can have very negative interpretations of our partner’s actions, thinking the worst.
But if you see anger as a signal that something is wrong and requires action, it can be a positive thing! This is why the first step in resolving disagreements is to make healthy choices in the way we manage our emotions. We need to take responsibility for our own feelings and perhaps take time to calm down. Some suggest counting to ten, but perhaps thirty minutes might let emotions settle down.
Then ask yourself: what am I really feeling? And what is it that’s led me to feel that way? Often there are important emotions underneath angry feelings and we’re more likely to resolve issues if we identify them. We’re also in a much better position to talk about the issue with our partner and find a good way forward, which is the next step in resolving conflict.
We still have disagreements but they don’t blow up into enormous rows.
Find communication insights, tips for all the steps for resolving conflict and how we can forgive when we’ve been hurt in Toucan Together’s Conflict Module.
As a couple we spent many years arguing because we were stuck in a spiral we couldn’t break out of. The turning point was learning that conflict is normal and can be healthy if managed well. Once we started to understand why we were behaving the way we were and learned to use a few positive strategies we were able to drop off some of the resentments that had built up. We still have disagreements but they don’t blow up into enormous rows. We’ve also found that we’ve grown closer as a result of managing conflict in a healthier way, because we’ve grown a much deeper and real understanding of each other.
Toucan Together empowers couples to grow their relationship in a fresh, flexible and fun way. The Conflict Module helps you explore the sources and effects of your disagreements on your relationship. Hear from real couples who share honestly and openly about their own struggles and what they’ve learned. Work out your typical conflict style: whether you’re a rhino, hedgehog, ostrich or scapegoat and learn positive approaches to resolve arguments in healthy ways.