The success or failure of almost every relationship comes down to how successfully or poorly the people in it communicate with each other. Communication is everything -- especially in your romantic life. It is always important to treat your partner with kindness and respect, communicate openly, be vulnerable, and use your words intentionally… but these principles become absolutely vital when there is a conflict, disagreement, or misunderstanding.
To manage conflict successfully, you must 1) get on the same team and 2) communicate effectively.
First, to get on the same team, understand that when a fight occurs, it should never be you versus your partner; it should be you + your partner versus the problem.
Next, to communicate effectively, implement the tools below:
- INQUIRE, DON’T ASSUME. Find out what the other person is thinking and WHY they feel the way they feel. Rather than jumping to a conclusion or making an assumption, be curious. Ask for them to explain why they are upset so that you can understand more clearly.
- RESPOND, DON’T CLAM UP. Say how you feel and converse back and forth. Don't close the door on finding a solution by clamming up, changing the subject, storming off, et cetera. If you need to take a breather and come back to the conversation later, that is okay, but try your best to sit there, be open, and calmly express how you feel.
- APOLOGIZE SINCERELY. If you messed up, you must humble yourself and give a real apology. A real apology doesn’t just involve saying “I’m sorry.” It involves admitting fault, asking for forgiveness, and immediately changing the problematic behavior. (If your partner was in the wrong too, then they should also be delivering a sincere apology).
- ASSERT YOUR NEEDS. Now that you and your partner understand each other’s positions and have (hopefully) apologized, it is time to ask for what you want. Please stop X behavior, please make an effort to do X, et cetera. If you are both open and honest about your needs, the two of you should be able to come up with a solution that is mutually agreeable. Every conflict that ends smoothly ends with some form of a compromise.
Even if you are not yet in a relationship, you can begin practicing these conflict management strategies in your family, friendships, and career. Like anything else, effective communication takes practice -- but it is what will make or break your relationships.