Conflict Resolution in Relationships & Couples: 5 Strategies
While conflict is not uncommon, if left unresolved along with related stress, it can damage the bonds that form between people (Overall & McNulty, 2017).
If we accept that all partners will disagree at times, we must also recognize that it is crucial to find a resolution to ensure that the relationship’s health is maintained (Grieger, 2015).
This article explores conflict and its resolution in couples and other relationships, introducing key strategies and activities to help avoid or recover from any harm done.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free . These science-based tools will help you and those you work with build better social skills and better connect with others.
This Article Contains:
Is conflict resolution important for healthy relationships, how to resolve conflicts in relationships: 4 steps, 5 helpful strategies for couples & married people, 5 exercises, activities, & worksheets for couples therapy, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.
Conflict need not always lead to damage. Challenge and disagreement within a relationship (romantic or otherwise) can encourage growth, deeper understanding, improved communication , and progress toward a goal (Overall & McNulty, 2017; Tatkin, 2012).
But this is not always the case.
The most critical aspect of conflict affecting the health of a relationship is its resolution. There will always be disagreement and differences of opinion of one kind or another. However, to avoid a loss of trust, damage to intimacy, or behavior that further upsets the relationship, “the couple will want to make sure that the resolution does not leave lingering hurt or resentment in one or both of them” (Grieger, 2015, p. 161).
Clinical psychologist Russell Grieger (2015) suggests that disagreements have four possible outcomes:
- The outcome is good for the first person, but not the second. This is a win–lose situation. One person gets what they want, while the other is left defeated, possibly feeling hurt, angry, and resentful. Such feelings may lead to further disagreements or surface in other areas of the relationship.
- The outcome benefits the second person, but not the first. This is similar to the first possible outcome, only this time it is the first person within the relationship who is left feeling thwarted or slighted (a lose–win scenario).
- The outcome is bad for both people. The third option is bad for both people; they equally face loss (lose–lose). Often a result of stubbornness on both sides when neither wants the other to ‘win,’ so neither will give in . Again, this is damaging for the relationship and, if ongoing or repeated, ultimately toxic.
- A resolution is found that is appropriate for both people. The couple or partners work toward an equally beneficial resolution and achieve a win–win outcome. Neither person is left feeling defeated or damaged, leading to increased confidence and trust in the relationship .
Undoubtedly, the fourth option is the most ideal for a long-term, healthy partnership and avoids the potential for a downward spiral in the relationship (Grieger, 2015). When in response to conflict, a win–win outcome leads to growth and moving forward.
- Step 1 – Eliminate relationship disturbances Firstly, it is vital to remove or at least reduce emotions that will get in the way of conflict resolution, such as hurt, anger, and resentment.
Otherwise, either side is unlikely to listen patiently and openly to what the other is saying.
- Step 2 – Commit to a win–win posture Each party must commit to finding a solution that works equally for both. One side winning while the other loses is not acceptable. The couple must remain motivated and open to change.
- Step 3 – Adopt purposeful listening A win–win solution is more likely when each partner is actively listening to the other. Each individual knows what a win looks like for themselves but now must purposefully listen to the other, avoiding censorship or judgment.
Once both have a shared understanding, a win–win solution is possible.
- Step 4 – Practice synergistic brainstorming The couple can progress toward identifying a workable resolution, having removed any emotional contamination, adopted a win–win mindset, and fully committed to a win for both.
The couple can share ideas, hopes, needs, goals, and concerns until finding a solution that satisfies both of them.
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Conflict can become an unhealthy habit, leading to a repeating pattern of one or both partners consistently feeling they have lost (Grieger, 2015).
It’s important to consider what brought the couple together in the first place and what they can do more or less of to show their love and understand one another better going forward.
Launching and landing rituals
Heading out to work, school, or the store is described as launching , a time when one partner leaves the relationship world for the non-relationship world (Tatkin, 2012).
Launchings and landings (returning to the relationship) can be an opportunity for conflict or the perfect chance to build healthy relationship-building habits.
Ask yourself or your client:
- Do you run out the door?
- Do you give a lingering kiss and share a moment?
- Do you return, slamming the door as you come in and ask what’s for dinner?
- Do you walk in with a smile and a funny story to tell?
What is right for one couple may not be for the next. It is essential to consider the message sent by each partner’s behavior. An enjoyable farewell and return can, in time, improve connections and reduce the risk of conflict.
Blueprint for love
Caddell (2013) describes the importance of building a blueprint for love. Conflict often arises from misunderstandings or a failure to consider the other’s needs and wishes.
Understanding what a loving relationship looks like to your partner may make it easier to recognize what upsets or frustrates them.
Use the Blueprint for Love worksheet to reflect on how a relationship’s blueprint for love might look.
The exercise begins by asking the client to think of a couple from their past who had a loving relationship. It may be their parents, or they can choose two other people who showed love, acceptance, and caring for one another. Then the person considers what they are looking for in a relationship.
Nothing swept under the rug
Conflict is often unavoidable and sometimes outside of our control. However, how we respond to disagreements, harsh words, and arguments is .
Tatkin (2012, p. 155) suggests couples should adopt the “policy never to avoid anything, no matter how difficult.” Not leaving things to fester and returning at a later date requires paying attention to one another and recognizing what is sensitive for the other person.
Aim to discuss and agree on a mutually beneficial outcome as soon as possible after an issue occurs. If that’s not possible, then agree when it can be discussed.
Revisiting the past
Sometimes couples forget what they saw in each other when they first met. Instead, they become wrapped up in repeating patterns of arguing, disagreements, and conflict.
Revisiting the past can serve as a helpful reminder of what is good about a couple and review why they are together (Williams, 2012).
Ask the couple to consider and discuss the following relationship therapy questions :
- What made you fall in love with each other?
- What were your early years like together?
- How were things better then?
- How are things better now?
- How do you currently show your partner that you care?
- What does your partner do that makes you feel loved?
- What caring behaviors can you do more of or start?
Focus on good communication
Clear, open, and complete dialogue is crucial to a successful relationship and reducing conflict. Sharing and understanding are best achieved when we are not projecting our own beliefs about a partner or what they are going to say but genuinely paying attention to verbal and nonverbal behavior (Hannah, Luquet, Hendrix, Hunt, & Mason, 2005).
Effective listening takes practice. Focus on your partner, what they have to say, and how they act; do not divide attention by looking at your phone or people passing by. Hear what they are saying and how they say it, rather than attending to your own thoughts. And crucially, be comfortable with moments of silence and practice nonjudgment.
Yet this can lead to any resolution being preferable to none due to the fear or discomfort of conflict.
To break out of the lose–win, win–lose, or lose–lose pattern often experienced in a relationship, each partnership must find their own path to achieving a win–win outcome (Grieger, 2015).
The following couples therapy exercises help to remove obstacles in the way of achieving positive outcomes in order to better understand how to ensure both partners win:
Removing relationship disturbances
Existing relationship disturbances can negatively affect finding an appropriate conflict resolution.
Ask each partner to complete the Removing Relationship Disturbances worksheet.
The exercise begins by each partner identifying existing disagreements and conflicts in their relationship and the emotional reactions that accompany them.
Couples answer the following:
- What do we disagree about?
- How do I emotionally react?
- How does my partner emotionally react?
To help with this exercise, couples can think about times when they experienced hurt, upset, anger, insecurity, and fear.
Next, they consider what they could do to remove such disturbances, being specific. What actions could resolve the problem causing these emotional reactions?
Agree to a Win–Win Mindset
Finding a better outcome to conflict requires adopting a win–win mindset. Grieger (2015) suggests rather than asking yourself, “How can I get what I want?” ask, “How can we get what we want?”
This change in approach requires a commitment from both partners to find solutions to problems that lead to mutual satisfaction.
Ask each partner to complete the Agree to a Win–Win Mindset and sign off on the following:
I, ____________________________, commit to adopting a win–win mindset where I work toward outcomes from current and future disagreements so that we both get what we want and need.
Tell them that to achieve a win–win outcome from conflicts, they need to commit to the mindset that they want to reach satisfactory results from all aspects of their relationship.
Once they have both physically signed up, put the sheet somewhere visible in the house to remind both parties that a new mindset is required throughout the relationship, now and in the future.
Listening With Purpose
To understand what a win means for the other person during conflict or a disagreement, it is essential to listen well, forming a deep understanding of their needs, hopes, fears, and wishes.
Use the Listening With Purpose worksheet to capture what winning looks like for both partners in a relationship before considering the next steps.
The couple should take some time, preferably in a place where they both feel safe and comfortable, to discuss what outcome they would like from the existing disagreement.
Without judgment and allowing each person the opportunity to talk openly, they should be able to share what they want. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer – only a true reflection of needs.
Brainstorming for Synergy
Compromise is essential in any relationship, particularly during conflict. Each partner must consider giving something up of similar value so that they meet somewhere in the middle (Grieger, 2015).
Use the Brainstorming for Synergy worksheet to encourage bouncing ideas off each other until the couple finds a win for both partners.
Capture the following:
- What is the disagreement about?
- What does a win for each person look like?
- Brainstorm ideas that could lead to mutual satisfaction.
Often, resolutions to conflict and disagreement feel like a win to both parties; this is a win–win situation. The couple’s goal should be for mutual satisfaction.
Regular Couple Check-Ups
We have regular check-ups for our physical wellbeing, so why not for our relationship health? Without regular monitoring, we don’t know if we are doing things right or wrong for the relationship and avoiding unnecessary conflict.
Grieger (2015) suggests the beginning of the month is a great time to attend to the health of the relationship. Use the Regular Couple Check-Ups worksheet to take stock honestly and openly and make plans for keeping the relationship on track or shake things up a little.
Ask each partner to consider the following questions together or apart:
- What is working well in the relationship, and what should we keep doing?
- What is working okay in the relationship that we could improve?
- What are we not doing that we need to start?
- What are we not doing so well and need to stop, improve, or replace?
The check-ups must be approached with an open, win–win mindset. This is not an opportunity to score points, but to perform a relationship health check and move forward in a positive way.
Couples therapist: 5 steps to repair conflict in your relationship
If you’re looking for more tools to help your clients strengthen their relationships, be sure to check out three of our hand-picked exercises from the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, which you can download for free in our 3 Positive Relationships Exercises Pack .
Here’s a quick snapshot of what’s included:
- Connecting with Others by Self-Disclosure In this exercise, clients practice answering questions that require personal disclosure. With one person acting as a listener while the other speaks, it is an opportunity for clients to get comfortable with the vulnerability inherent in self-disclosure as a means to strengthen intimacy and connection.
- Identifying our Expert Companions This exercise introduces clients to the notion of an expert companion as someone who can listen and help guide them through challenging times. In it, clients will discover the qualities inherent in their ideal expert companion and identify someone in their life who is best suited to fill this valuable role.
- The Sound Relationship House Inspection This exercise teaches couples the nine elements of the Sound Relationship House (SRH) as a metaphor for the functioning of their relationship. By having each partner rate their perception of the nine elements, couples will clarify areas of agreement and aspects of the relationship that would benefit from greater nurturing and attention.
Try out these powerful tools for yourself by downloading the exercise pack today.
Additional reading we recommend includes:
- 14 Conflict Resolution Strategies & Techniques for the Workplace This article about conflict resolution in the workplace is a helpful additional read, especially where couples work together. Whether it is working in the family business or working from home, these can cause conflict so be sure to have a look at this article too.
Conflict is a natural part of life. While it is not always damaging, it plays an inevitable role in every relationship.
Indeed, “all couples have disagreements. It is impossible to avoid them. It is how they handle them that will make or break their relationship” (Grieger, 2015, p. 164).
While couples should try to avoid a repeating pattern of conflict, when conflict is inevitable, they should seek a solution that leaves neither party feeling unfairly treated, hurt, or angry. If the resolution leaves one person feeling slighted or resentful, it can creep into other areas of the relationship.
A win–win outcome is most likely when we commit to fairness and listen to one another with open minds and hearts. We must use what we hear and what we already know of the other person to work together and find a solution where no one is left feeling they have lost.
While it is essential to avoid unnecessary conflict, it is helpful to develop an environment in which a couple can flourish and adopt a compassionate, trusting outlook that avoids damage or aids healing when conflict is unavoidable.
These strategies, worksheets, and exercises, teamed with the desire to grow and develop as a couple, provide a way to resolve conflict and form deeper bonds.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free .
- Caddell, J. (2013). Your best love: The couple’s workbook and guide to their best relationship. Author .
- Grieger, R. (2015). The couples therapy companion: A cognitive behavior workbook . Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- Hannah, M. T., Luquet, W., Hendrix, H., Hunt, H., & Mason, R. C. (2005). Imago relationship therapy: Perspectives on theory . Jossey-Bass.
- Overall, N. C., & McNulty, J. K. (2017). What type of communication during conflict is beneficial for intimate relationships? Current Opinion in Psychology , 13 , 1–5.
- Tatkin, S. (2012). Wired for love: How understanding your partner’s brain and attachment style can help you defuse conflict and build a secure relationship . New Harbinger.
- Williams, M. (2012). Couples counseling: A step by step guide for therapists . Viale.
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Thank you for this beautiful article. What happens when the other party don’t want to communicate but wants some space.
Thanks for your question. Sadly, we do not have any control over the way that others choose to communicate with us. We do, however, have full agency over the way that we act in response to another person’s communication style.
It’s important to remember that a conversation probably won’t be very productive if the parties involved have different needs at that moment, so it is probably best to wait until everyone involved is ready to discuss.
I hope this helps!
-Caroline | Community Management
In my relationship, I like to resolve things quickly, but my partner tends to push things off and never takes the initiative to start these conversations. It leaves me feeling resentful, even though I want to respect his desire to take space. How is a good way of addressing this?
It’s understandable that you’re feeling frustrated in this situation. Communication is crucial in any relationship, and it can be challenging when the ways you and your partner handle conflicts differ. Here are a few suggestions that might help:
– Express your feelings: Start by letting your partner know how you’re feeling, using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For instance, you might say, “I feel a bit upset when we don’t resolve our disagreements promptly, and it often leaves me feeling resentful.” – Understanding each other’s needs: It’s important to understand that people have different ways of processing emotions and conflicts. Your partner might need more time to think things through, while you might prefer addressing issues immediately. Discuss these differences openly and try to understand each other’s needs. – Find a compromise: Based on your understanding of each other’s needs, try to find a middle ground. Perhaps you could agree to give your partner some space to process, but they also agree to initiate a conversation about the issue within a certain timeframe. – Seek professional help: If these conversations are difficult or if you can’t seem to find a compromise, you might find it helpful to seek guidance from a relationship counselor.
Remember, it’s perfectly normal for couples to have different conflict resolution styles. The key is to communicate openly, understand each other’s needs, and find a compromise that works for both of you.
Best of luck, Julia | Community Manager
Please help me my marriage is divorced before 1 year.i have very regret.so how I can be resolved.the problem
I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling regret. Have you considered speaking with someone, perhaps a coach, therapist, or even a good friend, about your feelings surrounding the relationship? Of course, what to do next largely depends on the circumstances surrounding the end of the relationship, but perhaps sharing your concerns with someone you can trust may give you some insight or encouragement to help you move forward, whether that means looking to move on or trying to rekindle the relationship.
I wish you all the best.
– Nicole | Community Manager
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Managing vs. Resolving Conflict in Relationships: The Blueprints for Success
A look at three “conflict blueprints” to help you and your partner constructively manage conflict around unsolvable problems.
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work , Dr. John Gottman’s research proves that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. These may be things like personality traits your partner has that rub you the wrong way, or long-standing issues around spending and saving money. Their research findings emphasize the idea that couples must learn to manage conflict rather than avoid or attempt to eliminate it.
Trying to solve unsolvable problems is counterproductive, and no couple will ever completely eliminate them. However, discussing them is constructive and provides a positive opportunity for understanding and growth. Let’s look at three “conflict blueprints” to help you and your partner constructively manage conflict around unsolvable problems.
Conflict Blueprint #1: Current Conflicts
This blueprint addresses current conflicts. Based on game theory, a mathematical model that describes how to manage conflict and improve cooperation with others, this blueprint stresses that both partners put off persuasion tactics until each one can state their position clearly and fully. This involves each speaker and listener taking turns.
Both partners must be emotionally calm when speaking. The listener should take notes on what the speaker says. The speaker should focus on using a softened start-up, stating feelings by using “I” statements, and asking for needs to be met in a positive and respectful way.
Tips to effectively navigate Blueprint #1:
- Take a 15 to 20 minute break if things get too heated, and do something soothing and distracting that will help you calm down. When you return to talk, only one person should “have the floor” to talk while the other partner listens. No interruptions!
- Begin the conversation with a soft or curious tone. Use an “I” statement and express something you need. For example, “Could I ask you something? I felt embarrassed when you spoke down to me in front of our friends. Could you please be aware of that in the future?”
- Use repair attempts . Say key phrases to help your partner see that you are trying to understand and deescalate the conflict. For example, you can apologize, use humor appropriately, say “I hear you” or “I understand” and so on. Body language is important, too. Nod your head, make eye contact, and even offer a physical gesture of affection.
Conflict Blueprint #2: Attachment Injuries
This blueprint focuses on discussing past emotional injuries, often known as triggers, that occurred prior to or during the relationship. Also called “ attachment injuries ” by Dr. Sue Johnson, these can create resentment from past events that have gone unresolved. These frequently involve breaches of trust.
It is crucial to avoid being negative when discussing triggers. You both need to speak calmly and understand that both of your viewpoints are valid, even if you disagree. The goals are to gain comprehension of each other’s perspective and to acknowledge that regrettable incidents are inevitable in long-term relationships.
There are five primary components to a discussion about an emotional injury. These five steps are from the Gottmans’ Aftermath of a Fight or Regrettable Incident booklet . A couple should focus on describing how they feel, expressing their individual personal realities, exploring any underlying triggers, taking responsibility and apologizing, and forming productive plans for healing.
Tips to effectively navigate Blueprint #2:
- Offer a genuine apology to your partner regardless of your agreement or disagreement with their perspective. Focus only on the fact that you hurt your partner and that you need to take responsibility.
- Verbalize what you can take responsibility for, as well as any other factors that played into you getting caught up in the fight. For example, “I was too harsh when I spoke to you” or “I was stressed all day and took it out on you.”
- Ask your partner what he or she needs from you to heal and move forward. Be sure to follow through on the request.
Conflict Blueprint #3: Gridlock and Dialogue
Couples are often either “gridlocked” or “in dialogue” on their perpetual problems, and research suggests that these problems concern personality differences or core fundamental needs. Being in dialogue, the preferred status, is when the couple has learned to accept their differences on that topic even though minor arguments arise occasionally. Overall, the couple has made peace on the issue and they agree to disagree.
Moving from gridlock to dialogue involves examining the meaning and dreams that form the basis for each partner’s steadfast perspective. Each partner may be able to find a way to honor their partner’s dreams, which often amounts to fulfilling a core need regarding the issue at stake.
Those couples who successfully navigate a recurring problem in their relationship have learned to express acceptance of their partner’s personality, and they can talk about and appreciate the underlying meaning of each other’s position on the issue.
Tips to effectively navigate Blueprint #3
- Take turns speaking and listening. As the speaker, you should communicate clearly and honestly. Where does your perspective or position on the issue come from, and what does it symbolize for you? What kinds of lifelong dreams or core issues are at stake for you?
- As the listener, you must create a safe space for the speaker. No judging or arguing, and don’t give advice or try to solve the problem. Show genuine interest in what your partner is telling you, and allow them enough time and space to fully communicate their concerns. Ask questions so that you can both fully explore the issue and its related meaning.
- Find ways to create small compromises that can pave the way to larger plans. If your dreams differ, try to find areas where they overlap, or try to make plans to give each partner’s dreams a chance to grow and become reality.
All relationships have perpetual problems that crop up throughout your lives as a couple. Psychologist Dan Wile once said that “when choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” No one escapes this fact. Fortunately, we have real science that helps couples learn how to manage such conflicts and keep their love alive and well.
Click here for more detailed information on Dealing with Conflict and for tips and exercises designed to improve your relationship.
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Dr. Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT is in private practice in Boca Raton, Florida where she specializes in couples therapy. Dr. Marni is certified in Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) and Discernment Counseling. She also blogs on About.com, Huffington Post and Dr. Oz’s ShareCare. For more information, visit her website .
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More from focus, q&a: unresolved conflicts in marriage, themes covered, what's inside this article, knowing when not to agree to disagree, six steps to resolving conflict.
Question: My spouse and I have a lot of unresolved conflicts. At this point we’re practically living separate lives, and the problem is only getting worse. What can we do to reverse this trend? At what point should we simply agree to disagree about our differences?
It’s hard to guess how many arguments could be averted if couples would simply pray about their differences and let them go. This is hard to do, since most of us want to be "right" and justify our behaviour.
Differences are usually what attract partners to one another. Agreeing to disagree, when it’s appropriate, is realistic. It can also help each of you appreciate the other’s uniqueness.
"When it’s appropriate" is, of course, the controlling phrase here. It’s silly and pointless to stay divided from one another over issues that really don’t matter. But how do you tell the difference between a petty disagreement and a serious discrepancy in perspective and philosophy? How do you know when you should "agree to disagree" and when you should "stick to your guns"?
The answers to those questions will depend on the importance you attach to each issue. There are certain decisions, such as having children, setting life goals and choosing where to live, that may require outside help to negotiate if you can’t agree. Other problems – for instance, whether to have pets, where to go on vacation, how much to spend on dining out, who cleans the bathrooms – may be easier to work out on your own. In every instance, the key is your willingness to bend and flex. Defensiveness and an insistence on "winning" the battle are always destructive and counterproductive.
So what can you do if the same issues keep popping up unresolved? Here are some steps you can take to deal with the more formidable conflicts in your marriage:
- First, realize that you learn to work through conflict by confronting the issue – not by avoiding it.
- Remember the purpose of confronting the conflict: resolution. Your ultimate goal is to reconcile and make your relationship even stronger. If you’re aiming simply to spout hurt and anger, you’ll damage the relationship. If that’s the case, you’re better off just letting the matter go. Winning the battle isn’t important. What matters is continuing to strengthen your bond.
- Don’t procrastinate. Conflict resolution should be undertaken as soon as either party recognizes that he or she is feeling upset.
- Take turns expressing your feelings about the conflict at hand. Listen to your mate carefully. Use "I" statements instead of attacking the other person – for instance, "I feel hurt when you don’t follow through," rather than, "You’re so irresponsible."
- Specifically express your need to your spouse. Then come up with a mutually satisfactory plan of action. For example, say something like, "It would help me if you’d take out the trash as soon as you agree to do it." Once you’ve established this, write out a schedule specifying that the trash is to be taken out every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. That way, both of you will have the same expectation.
- Find another couple, a pastor or a counsellor to whom both of you will be accountable. Share the plan of action you’ve agreed upon. Knowing that someone is holding you accountable can help you follow through.
If, after trying to implement these measures, you find that your chronic conflicts continue to drag on, never reaching resolution, it may be time to seek professional help. If you need referrals to counsellors who are qualified to assist you in this area, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department can provide you with a list of professionals in your locality who specialize in communication issues and marital dysfunction. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PDT at 1.800 661.9800.
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How To Deal With Unresolved Issues In A Relationship: 16 Effective Tips
Get expert help dealing with the unresolved issues in your relationship. Click here to chat online to someone right now.
Problems can’t be swept under the rug forever. At some point, they will come out and create a mess that will be hard to clean up.
Unresolved issues in a relationship could turn your fights over trivial things into arguments about something else you’ve been ignoring.
Suppose you find yourself constantly having the same fight over and over again or resenting each other for something that happened before. In that case, you likely have unresolved issues that need to be addressed.
Keep reading for some steps to deal with unresolved problems in your relationship.
1. Know that your feelings are valid.
Are you denying yourself the right to feel angry at your partner or upset about something they do? Or something they have done before?
To deal with the problems in your relationship, start by allowing yourself to feel those emotions. Don’t think that you shouldn’t feel the way you do.
Whatever you feel is okay, and you probably have justified reasons for the way you feel. If you try to bottle up your feelings instead, they will eventually spill out.
You don’t want to end up resenting your partner because you were too afraid to speak up about what’s bothering you. After all, that’s how unresolved problems stay unresolved.
You have to talk about your feelings with your partner. Start by acknowledging and validating them. You have the right to feel whatever you’re feeling, and your partner should be aware of it. Acknowledging your feelings is necessary if the issues that are causing those feelings are to go away.
2. Keep in mind that all relationships have problems.
You shouldn’t feel so bad about having problems in your relationship.
After all, all relationships experience difficulties. You and your partner shouldn’t beat yourselves up about not being able to have a “perfect relationship.” You are not perfect, and your relationship can’t be perfect either. The problems you’re experiencing aren’t a negative reflection of you; they are just something you have to work through together.
As long as you’re both willing to work on it, anything can be improved or at least managed.
In fact, it’s essential to understand that some things have to be managed and can’t be fully resolved. Don’t put pressure on yourself and your partner if you’re dealing with an unsolvable problem. Learn to accept what you cannot change and find ways to cope with it if it’s not a deal breaker.
Sometimes, there are things that you have to learn to live with if you want to continue a relationship. It’s not the end of the world if a problem persists. As already mentioned, no relationship is without flaws.
If you care about your partner and you can’t seem to fix the issue, it might be time to set new and reasonable expectations.
3. Remember that conflict is normal.
There are conflicts in all relationships from time to time. The important thing to remember is that they are rarely the fault of only one person. Try not to play the blame game and accept that you’ve both played a part in creating the problem instead.
Accept that you have different points of view and try to see things from your partner’s perspective. It’s helpful to have a proactive problem-solving attitude when it comes to conflicts. Instead of shutting down, criticizing your partner, or trying to prove them wrong, seek to make progress.
Try to be calm during conflicts because an argument shouldn’t include yelling and name-calling . If you change your attitude towards conflicts and improve how you fight, it will be easier to resolve issues.
It’s always helpful to limit accusations and aggressive attitudes. Just remember that being assertive in an argument is not the same as being aggressive.
Communicating well is a necessary part of resolving any issues, and it includes proper communication even while you’re upset or angry at each other. Try to look at conflicts as a means to an end. You are not fighting to prove a point or prove your partner wrong. You’re fighting to solve a problem.
4. Remind yourself of all the reasons why you care about your partner.
The unresolved problems in your relationship are probably bothering you. They make you feel negatively toward your partner and the relationship.
To counter these feelings, try to outweigh the negative with the positive.
Think about why you care about your partner before addressing the issue. This will help keep you calm and focused on finding solutions during conflicts. If you want to stay with your partner and save the relationship, you want to have positive feelings to motivate you.
If something has been bothering you for a while now, you might be harboring negative emotions that make you see your partner differently. So, remember why you fell in love with them in the first place and recall their good qualities.
Even if you have many problems in your relationship, if you care about each other enough, you’ll find a way to make it work.
Remind yourself why your partner is worth the trouble before you embark on a journey to solve your problems. Understand that it might take time before things are the way you’d want them to be. You don’t want to harbor negative feelings toward your partner during the time it takes to fix things.
Focus on your partner’s positive traits. Focus on everything that you love about them. It will give you the strength to fight for the relationship and the ability to remain calm enough to discuss the problems with them.
5. Identify the issues in your relationship.
So, there are problems, but are you sure you know what they are?
Are your fights really about the topic you’re fighting about? Or are they about something else that you’re trying to ignore?
Maybe you’re still upset about something that happened before. Perhaps you’re not quite sure what the problem is exactly.
Take some time to identify the issues in your relationship. It might help to talk to someone you trust about them. You could also talk to a therapist who could help you get to the root of the problem.
Maybe there is something that you thought you’d forgiven your partner for, but you’re actually still upset about it. Perhaps you are not even aware of the underlying issue that you’re upset about.
For instance, maybe you think you’re upset because your partner spends a lot of money, but you’re really upset about not being involved in financial decisions. Maybe your partner cheated on you, and you tried to forgive them, but you are still bitter about it.
Whatever the problem is in your relationship, you should spend some time thinking about it. Always try to dig deeper.
What’s on the surface might not be the real issue you’re dealing with, and you can’t fix it if you don’t know what it is exactly.
6. Consider whether the issues are deal breakers.
Not all problems are created equal. Some problems can be lived with. Others ought to spell the end of your relationship.
Ask yourself: can you live with the unresolved issues in your relationship if they happen to stay unresolved? Or are there deal breakers that you’re not willing to settle for?
Be honest with yourself and clear about what you can and can’t tolerate. If you can live with the problems in your relationship, focus on finding ways to thrive in it despite them.
If you have tried fixing them and can’t live with them, you should consider ending the relationship. Not everything can be repaired, and sometimes that’s an uncomfortable realization.
Can you stay with your partner if things don’t change? Have you tried changing them?
Keep in mind that you should be realistic when considering this. Don’t expect things to be perfect with your next partner.
If there are actual deal breakers, it might be best to end things. But if you want to end things because you’re hoping for a perfect relationship with no issues, think about it some more. There will always be problems in any relationship. It’s just a question of which you can tolerate or fix and which you can’t.
7. Consider whether there’s a bright side to it all.
Problems are inherently bad, but there’s usually a bright side. Look at things from a different perspective to see if there’s something positive in all that mess.
For instance, if you hate that you can’t count on your partner, remind yourself how much you love their spontaneity and independence. If the problem is that the relationship has gotten boring, keep in mind that it is also safe and comforting to know you can depend on someone.
Try to look at your specific problem this way, and you might discover that the issue is not as serious as it seems.
When you look at things from a negative perspective, they can feel very overwhelming. Try to maintain a positive attitude and look at things from both sides. Everything usually has upsides and downsides. If you can’t fix the problem it will be helpful to know how to make it work for you and take advantage of its bright side.
8. Don’t assume that your partner doesn’t care about you.
When you’re upset because of the problems in your relationship, you could start thinking that your partner doesn’t care about you. But do you have any evidence to support that theory, or is it clear that your partner cares about you?
Your relationship can survive the problems you’re experiencing if you both want to make it work. Don’t start thinking that the relationship is doomed. Negative thoughts like these can make you see the bad in everything.
If you want to stay in your relationship, always try to have a positive attitude. Having a positive attitude towards problems can help you realize that they’re not as big as they seem.
Having a positive attitude will help you work on the issues in your relationship and communicate with your partner more efficiently – even during arguments. The worst thing that could happen if you try this approach is that you’ll be a happier person. Try to see the good in everything.
Unless you have proof that your partner doesn’t care about you, don’t assume it just because you’re struggling with an issue in your relationship. If you believe your relationship is doomed, it probably will be at some point in the future. So try not to make problems more significant than they already are.
9. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your thoughts.
The reason the problems you’re experiencing are left unattended may be because you’re scared to speak up about them.
Maybe you are too worried that your partner will get mad at you, or you think that they’ll shut down. Perhaps you’re assuming they’ll say that you’re overreacting or that you’re making a fuss over nothing.
If you can’t talk to your partner about the problems in your relationship, that’s just another problem that’s preventing you from resolving the rest of them.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell your partner what’s on your mind. Take some time to think about what you will say before talking to them, especially if you’re worried that you’ll say something wrong.
However, try not to be afraid to speak your mind around them. A relationship where you can’t be honest or discuss problems isn’t a healthy one.
Maybe this is the issue you should address first. You should feel comfortable enough around your partner to speak up about what’s bothering you, so find the courage to do that. You can’t say anything wrong around someone who loves you enough to listen to the entire story.
10. Communicate about the unresolved issues.
You can’t keep postponing the conversation that you need to have with your partner. Talk to them about the problems in your relationship and try to find a way to solve them together.
If you can’t talk about the issue, there is no way you could fix it. Open up to them and have a heart-to-heart conversation about what’s been bothering you. Help your partner see things from your point of view and consider their perspective too. Don’t point fingers or turn the conversation into a big fight. By remaining calm and assertive, it will be easier to get the message across.
You want to fix the problems in your relationship, not create new ones, and your partner should understand that. Try to be empathetic and listen to your partner’s side of the story without criticizing or blaming them. Let them open up to you and share their thoughts and feelings about the issues too.
If you’re having trouble communicating efficiently, seek the help of a relationship counselor and improve your communication skills. Don’t forget that you need to talk about the problems if you want to fix them.
11. Be prepared to forgive, negotiate, and compromise.
Some problems can be resolved simply by forgiving each other for the mistakes you’ve made so far. Be prepared and willing to let go of any resentment and truly forgive your partner, even if they have hurt you a lot. You will also need to be prepared to negotiate and make compromises.
Things might not work out exactly the way you’ve imagined, but things could get better. If your partner shows that they are willing to work on the relationship and meet you halfway, accept that. It might not resolve the issue, but it could make it easier to tolerate it. As long as they address your concerns to some extent, you will be on the right track, and that would be enough for now.
You can’t expect things to change overnight. Working on a relationship takes time, and it’s all about the small steps. You’ll get there as long as you’re looking in the same direction and walking side by side. Don’t insist that the problem be fixed immediately or expect it to happen.
Try to find happiness if you’re making progress and if your partner is willing to do something about it. Progress alone might not be enough in the long run, but it’s a huge step forward for now.
12. Work on your friendship.
To be great partners to each other, you also need to be good friends.
Work on building your friendship. Engage in fun activities together, discover shared interests, share a hobby, and go on regular dates. There are lots of fun ideas for quality time together – both inside and outside the home. And using them will help you work on the problems in your relationship.
Don’t only be romantic partners – be a team, be best friends, and work on improving your love life together. Start talking more and opening up to each other if you’ve been having trouble with that.
Most importantly, laugh more and remind yourselves of all the reasons why you enjoy each other’s company. Make each other feel loved, appreciated, and cherished.
If you can be friends and work as a team, you can do anything, including resolving your issues. So, work on deepening the bond, strengthening the connection, and truly becoming good friends that enjoy being around each other.
13. Don’t sweep problems under the rug.
Problems don’t go away when you choose to ignore them and sweep them under the rug. Start addressing issues in your relationship as soon as they appear. The sooner you fix them, the better.
What’s the point in postponing it until the problem gets bigger and more difficult to manage?
The most important part of all of this is being friends, talking about issues calmly, and working on them together. When you fight, don’t spend days not talking to each other or pouting. Have a grown-up discussion about your problems as soon as you can calmly talk about them.
If your relationship is going to last, you’ll need to figure out which issues need managing and which need resolving. Look at this as a training period for what’s yet to come.
The fact that there’ll always be some problems shouldn’t scare you; that’s just life. If you have the right attitude and effective communication in your relationship, you can overcome it all together.
14. Find ways to work on the problem together.
Remind yourself that both of you took part in creating the problem. Therefore, it’s your joint responsibility to solve it. It takes two to tango, so accept that the current state of your relationship is not only one partner’s fault. Accept your part of the blame instead of blaming your partner for everything. This is the first step to resolving the problem together.
Your partner needs to be willing to find a way to make things work. After all, you can’t fix your relationship without them. Both of you need to put an equal amount of effort into making your relationship as happy and healthy as it can be. Encourage your partner to accept their part of the blame too.
You can set a positive example with your behavior. If your partner makes progress, acknowledge it and praise them for it. Don’t forget – you’re in this together.
15. Accept your differences but work on improving yourselves.
Not all problems have a solution; you might have to accept that you and your partner have your differences. You won’t always see eye to eye, and that’s normal. Again, some problems can’t be fixed, but if you can live with them, it’s worth trying to make it work with your partner.
Relationships aren’t always smooth sailing, and no one is a saint. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree and move past it. If you can’t find a way to fix something, you might find a way to accept it.
Maybe you’ll need to forgive your partner for something they did, or you’ll accept the bad with the good. Whatever the case may be, if you care about your partner and they feel the same way about you, don’t give up on the relationship because there are some difficulties.
Learn to be happy despite the difficulties. You can do that by putting effort into making each other happy. Work on improving yourself and your relationship because happy couples grow together in their relationships .
16. Talk to a relationship expert.
Ultimately, the most effective way to resolve issues in your relationship depends on the problem and your specific situation. Talking to someone about it might be the best idea.
A relationship counselor could give you tailored advice based on your specific circumstances. You can speak to one with or without your partner. It might be best to try out a session on your own and include your partner after the counselor is familiar with the issue.
By all means, seek the help of your loved ones as well. However, know that an experienced professional might be more objective and give you better insights into the problem.
When you want to improve your relationship, you should use all the help you can get, and there’s no shame in talking to a counselor.
If this is something you feel is right for you, speak to one of the relationships experts at Relationship Hero . You can connect with them via video, phone, or instant message to get the help and advice you need.
Click here to learn more or to talk to someone right now.
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Ana Vakos enjoys writing about love and all the problems that come with it. Everyone has experiences with love, and everyone needs dating advice, so giving these topics more attention and spreading the word means a lot to her.
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When Your Spouse Struggles With Past Trauma
- By Mark A. Mayfield
- December 20, 2018
A spouse can bring pain, triggers and irrational responses to a marriage when he or she has experienced trauma that’s unresolved. But with love and commitment, his or her spouse can learn to help.
Karen and Frank walked into my office and plopped onto my chesterfield couch. Karen curled up in one corner with a pillow hugged close to her chest. Frank sat on the opposite end of the couch, staring out the window with his arms crossed and his brow furrowed.
I had been seeing Karen and Frank for marriage counseling for several months. They had been married five years, and those years were difficult and strained because Karen had experienced significant relational trauma prior to marrying Frank. Karen’s trauma involved sexual assault from a dating relationship in college coupled with a verbally abusive father.
I settled back in my chair. “By how you’re both seated on the couch, it appears you’re not doing so well,” I said. “Tell me how the week has been.”
Neither Frank nor Karen responded immediately. After several minutes of silence, Frank said, “I can’t seem to do anything right. Karen is either silent or emotional. I often feel like I’m tiptoeing around the house.”
As Frank talked, I noticed that Karen hugged the pillow closer to her chest and began to weep.
This type of interaction is all too familiar when a spouse brings a history of unresolved trauma into the marriage.
There is a struggle to understand the spouse’s hidden pain, triggers and sometimes seemingly irrational responses. However, love and commitment to a spouse can create a desire to stick with and help him or her through those dark days.
Here is some information for understanding and helping your spouse as he or she deals with past trauma:
God designed our bodies to overcome, to thrive and to protect. One way this happens is through the fight, flight or freeze response. This is a subconscious, conditioned response to danger. When an individual is faced with danger (emotional, mental, physical or spiritual), the autonomic nervous system, paired with the brain’s limbic system and cerebellum, will kick in to protect the person’s major organs and/or provide the person with enough energy to flee the situation.
The brain fragments sensory information created by danger and stores it in subconscious areas. When a person experiences similar danger-based circumstances, he or she will react with the fight, flight or freeze response, often with adverse effects.
For example, let’s say you are going for a run. As you are running, a vicious dog rushes out of a nearby house and starts to chase you. Your subconscious response then takes over. Blood rushes to your major organs and your limbs to provide a swift escape. Once free from impending danger, your body will come back to equilibrium. But several days later, when you walk past a pet store, one of the dogs starts to bark, and you immediately feel the need to run. This is called a “trauma response trigger.” Your conscious mind did not see a threat, but your body remembered the trauma from the day before, and your subconscious mind decided to kick in to protect you from the threat.
At varying levels, this is what happens in a marriage when one spouse has a history of unresolved trauma. A word or action from an unknowing spouse can trigger the subconscious of the trauma-sensitive spouse and send him or her into a fight, flight or freeze reaction.
We are designed for connection and created for relationship. However, when we experience trauma, the innate need for connection is disrupted. As a result, maintaining a relationship with someone else becomes difficult. Why? Because below the surface, the body is scanning for danger. Emotional distance becomes the norm. Mutual empathy can be a difficult task. And trusting other people — even a spouse — becomes extremely hard. Remember that these reactions or triggers have little or nothing to do with the spouse but are a reaction to internal stimuli.
This basic understanding of trauma is intended to provide a framework for spouses to understand what’s happening behind the exterior behavior and emotions. But here are practical things you can do to help navigate your marriage through this difficult situation:
Listen. This step may seem too simple; however, it’s extremely important: Take time to listen to your spouse. Don’t just listen to the words, also “listen” to his or her body language, facial expressions and heart. Ask clarifying questions to explore deeper meaning. Listening in this way will help your spouse feel seen and heard.
Empathize. Empathy is working to put yourself in the other person’s shoes without assuming responsibility for his or her emotions. What might it feel like to experience the emotions, thoughts and physiological expressions that your spouse is feeling? By empathizing with your husband or wife, not only are you attempting to work on comprehend his or her struggles and feelings, you’re also jumping into the trenches with him or her.
Seek to understand. Seeking to understand allows someone to ask questions, be inquisitive and explore the nuanced perspective of another individual. Understanding will provide insight into how your spouse’s past trauma is affecting his or her current functioning. In effect, you will begin to understand his or her triggers and fears.
Find outside support. Someone who has a history of trauma should not attempt to heal without help. Nor should a husband or wife try to fix what he or she sees as the problem. Seeking quality, qualified counseling is of the utmost importance for the spouse who is struggling and for the couple.
A variety of marital issues can lead to challenges or even hopelessness for one or both spouses in a marriage. Gaining a sense of hope and direction often requires understanding the underlying issues and relationship patterns which may have led to the crisis. Reach out to well-trained helpers even if you are the only person in the marriage willing to take action at this time. We can guide you as you seek a referral and take your first steps toward recovery. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or [email protected] www.FocusontheFamily.com/Counseling
© 2018 Mark Mayfield. All rights reserved. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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About the Author
Mark A. Mayfield
Dr. Mark A. Mayfield has been a counselor to at-risk teens, families and couples for more than 10 years. He is the founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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How Couples Therapy Can Improve Your Relationship
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
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What Is Couples Therapy?
Types of couples therapy, what couples therapy can help with, effectiveness, things to consider, how to get started.
Couples therapy is a form of psychotherapy that can help you and your partner improve your relationship. If you are having relationship difficulties, you can seek couples therapy to help rebuild your relationship. It is helpful at any stage of your relationship, regardless of
“Couples therapy can address a wide range of relationship issues, including recurring conflicts , feelings of disconnection, an affair, issues related to sex, or difficulties due to external stressors,” says Brian Mueller , PhD, a psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center who specializes in couples therapy.
If you and your partner are going through a rough patch , couples therapy can help you work on your relationship. Your therapist can help you express your feelings, discuss issues with your partner, and resolve conflicts.
Couples therapy can help increase understanding, respect, affection, and intimacy between you and your partner, which can help you be happier together.
According to Mueller, there are numerous approaches to couples therapy, which can include:
- Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) : EFT focuses on improving the attachment and bonding between you and your partner. The therapist helps you understand and change patterns that lead to feelings of disconnection.
- Gottman method: This method involves addressing areas of conflict and equipping you and your partner with problem-solving skills. It aims to improve the quality of friendship and the level of intimacy between you and your partner.
- Ellen Wachtel’s approach: This is a strength-based approach that involves focusing on the positive aspects of the relationship. It focuses on self-reflection rather than blame.
- Psychodynamic couple’s therapy : Psychodynamic therapy explores the underlying hopes and fears that motivate you and your partner, to help you understand each other better.
- Behavioral therapy : Also known as behavioral couples therapy (BCT), this form of therapy involves shaping behavior by reinforcing positive behaviors that promote stability and satisfaction, while discouraging behaviors that foster negativity.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) : Also referred to as cognitive behavioral couples therapy (CBCT), this form of therapy involves identifying and changing thought patterns that negatively influence behavior.
Couples therapists often employ an integrated approach to treatment, borrowing techniques from different forms of therapy, depending on your needs.
These are some of the strategies a couples therapist might employ:
- Getting to know you: “The therapist creates a sense of safety by getting to know you and your partner. They work actively and collaboratively with you to help you understand yourself and your partner better,” says Mueller.
- Identifying feelings : “The therapist helps you and your partner identify feelings and put them into words to one another,” says Mueller.
- Exploring the past: Couples therapy can involve exploring your past, since that can help you better understand your fears, motivations, and behaviors in a relationship. It can also help address unresolved conflicts that affect your present.
- Focusing on solutions: Your therapist will work with you and your partner to resolve issues, correct negative behavior patterns, and focus on positive aspects of the relationship.
- Teaching skills: Couples therapy can help teach you and your partner anger management , problem solving , and conflict resolution skills . The aim is to equip you and your partner with tools to help you deal with issues as they crop up.
Couples therapy can give you and your partner the opportunity to discuss and resolve issues related to several aspects of your relationship, which can include:
- Roles in the relationship: Couples therapy can help you examine the roles you and your partner play in the relationship and identify unhealthy dynamics . It can also help address differences in expectations.
- Beliefs and values: Couples therapy can help you and your partner discuss your beliefs, values, and religious sentiments and the implications of these aspects on your daily lives.
- Finances: Finances can be a major source of conflict in relationships. Couples therapy can help promote open dialogue and transparency around income and spending habits.
- Time spent together: You and your partner can address issues that have been sabotaging your time together. You can discuss activities that you enjoy doing together and how to make time spent together more enjoyable.
- Children: If you and your partner are not on the same page about whether or not you want to have children or how you would like to raise them, couples therapy can help you communicate these concerns. It can also help with stressors like difficulty conceiving or adopting children.
- Familial relationships: Couples therapy can help you and your partner work out issues stemming from conflicts with other family members , like parents, children, and siblings.
- Sex and intimacy: If you and your partner are having issues related to sex and intimacy, or infidelity, couples therapy can offer a safe space for you to share your feelings and needs.
- Health issues: Physical or mental health illnesses can be hard on you and your partner. Couples therapy can help you deal with the stress it puts on your relationship.
- External stressors: Therapy can also help you and your partner deal with conflicts caused by external factors, like work for instance, that can put stress on your relationship.
Benefits of Couples Therapy
“People report feeling more connected to their partner and their own feelings, as well as more secure, spontaneous, and playful in the relationship. When people feel more secure in their relationship, they can become more assertive and adventurous in other parts of their life,” says Mueller.
Brain Mueller, PhD
Benefits of couples therapy include reduced relationship distress and increased relationship satisfaction.
These are some of the benefits couples therapy can offer:
- Understand each other better: Couples therapy can help you understand yourself and your partner better. It can help both of you express your feelings, hopes, fears, priorities, values, and beliefs.
- Identify relationship issues: Your therapist can help you and your partner identify issues that are leading to recurring conflicts, lack of trust , and feelings of disconnection, says Mueller.
- Improve communication skills: Therapy can help you and your partner communicate with each other. It can help you express yourself and ask for what you need without attacking or blaming your partner.
- Resolve conflicts: Your therapist can help you and your partner work through your issues and resolve them.
- Strengthen friendship and attachment: Couples therapy can help strengthen the friendship, attachment, bonding, and intimacy between you and your partner.
- Terminate dysfunctional behavior: Your therapist can identify dysfunctional behaviors and help eliminate them.
- Learn skills: Couples therapy is not a long-term form of therapy. Instead, it is a short-term therapy that aims to equip you and your partner with skills to help you prevent and manage conflicts that arise down the road.
- Improve relationship satisfaction: Couples therapy can help improve the overall quality of your relationship , so that you and your partner are happier together.
According to a 2014 summary, couples therapy can help with relationship satisfaction , communication, forgiveness, problem solving, and resolution of needs and feelings.
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) particularly has strong research support across a wide range of concerns, according to Mueller. He says numerous studies have shown that couples who receive eight to 12 sessions of EFT report reduced distress and increased relationship satisfaction for both partners, with benefits lasting even two years after treatment.
Couples therapy ideally requires participation from you and your partner. However, if your partner is not open to it, you can also opt to do couples therapy alone, to better understand your relationship and how you can improve it.
If you and your partner undertake it together, you may find that one or both of you also need separate therapy sessions to help deal with the issues brought up in couples therapy.
If you or your partner are also dealing with other issues, like substance abuse for instance, your therapist might suggest specialized therapy for treatment.
If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database .
If you feel your relationship would benefit from couples therapy , discuss it with your partner and see if they’re open to it. If they’re resistant to it, explain why it’s important to you and how you think it might help your relationship.
The next step is to find a practitioner. Couples therapy is often provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists; however, other psychologists and psychiatrists may offer it as well. Friends or family might be able to suggest someone you can go to, or if you’re seeing a therapist for other reasons, they may be able to refer you to a specialist.
Check with your partner what days and timings work for them. Try to find a therapist who is conveniently located, if you and your partner prefer in-person sessions. Make sure the therapist takes your insurance plan .
When you start therapy, you and your partner will probably have to fill out forms detailing your medical history and insurance information. You may also have to fill out questionnaires to help your therapist better understand your relationship, the issues you’re facing, and what you hope to gain from therapy.
Your therapist will work with you and your partner to outline the goals for therapy. While couples therapy typically involves joint sessions, your therapist may also do individual sessions with you or your partner. They may also assign homework.
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Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. Couples therapy for adults experiencing relationship distress: a review of the clinical evidence and guidelines . 2014.
By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.
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What to Do with Unresolved Issues in Your Relationship
- Help for Relationship Trouble
- Kristin Rosenthal, LPC
- October 24, 2017
Are you seeing signs that unresolved issues are hurting your relationship? When you don’t know how talk about relationship problems, you’re left:
- Feeling shut down when he touches you, because you feel angry, put-off, resentful, rather than affectionate
- Fearing a bad outcome if you bring up your trouble, such as a full-blown fight
- Feeling unheard when you do try to discuss why you’re angry
- Thinking you don’t have enough influence in your relationship, which can lead to frustration
Love needs rebuilding, attention and care. Here’s how to tend to anger in a love-safe way.
First, Deal With Your Fear
Why are you holding back? Maybe you’re afraid of speaking your mind and doing it wrong. You worry, “What if he thinks I’m upset over nothing? What if things blow up and we have a big fight? What if he just shuts down? What if he gets really angry and defensive?”
First, think about why you’re afraid to speak up. It takes courage to handle your own deeper feelings. You may be afraid of his reaction.
It’s not wrong to feel afraid to bring up relationship problems. Almost nothing is more stressful than fighting with the person you love and depend on emotionally. You have a basic need to feel safe, solid, secure together. You can be imperfect and handle this successfully.
Know that a difficult conversation does not have to ruin things between you. You don’t have to get it perfect for you and your partner to set things right. What you need is to work up some repair skills. The good thing is, repair skills are learnable!
Accept That You Need to Speak Up
If you value your relationship, you need to speak up. A relationship isn’t so solid and secure if you can’t speak your truth about how you feel, right? So, what do you say when your loved one upsets you?
We now have some research-backed insights about how love works. Love lab studies show that the secret of successful love isn’t whether couples avoid hurting each other. It’s how well they handle and repair their mistakes.
We are only human. Every couple will at some point run into something unhealthy in their relationship. They might:
- Blame each other instead of look at their problem together
- Criticize or say something hurtful
- Get defensive instead of receptive
- Feel contempt, or assume the worst about their partner
A misstep by itself doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. One big difference between couples who stay together, and those who split, is the ability to repair the damage of injuries to their relationship.
Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman studied 3,000 couples to learn the traits of successful repairs.
How Successful Couples Talk About Relationship Problems
What Gottman found by analyzing repairs that made things better:
1) A partner is willing to take responsibility for what is wrong , and make a repair attempt. Some repair phrases Gottman noticed include:
- Y ou know, I don’t think either of us is really listening to each other right now. Maybe we should start over.”
- “I need a break. Can we talk about this in 20 minutes?”
- “I’m sorry, I really wish I hadn’t said that.”
2) The receiving partner is able to hear the attempt to make things better , no matter how clear or clumsy it is.
3) The relationship itself is a friendly place. A repair attempt is far more likely to succeed if the atmosphere between the partners is positive at the time.
Friendship Is the Secret Sauce
The quality of your friendship is perhaps the most valuable trait in keeping your marriage or relationship strong.
To build a better base of friendship, Gottman’s research helps again here. The first 3 of his 7 principles for making marriage work are great friendship builders:
1) Keep aware and curious about what’s going on in your partner’s inner world.
2) Nurture respect. Appreciate and build on a positive view of each other.
3) Turn toward each other instead of away in good times and bad.
If you’re afraid to speak up, know that there may be a silver lining to taking the risk. Learning to repair conflict helps your love grow even stronger and better.
The way you repair your relationship has a huge impact on how close you feel over time. This is why learning to let your loved one know that you’re upset about something can help you build a stronger relationship.
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What Should You Do When Marital Problems are Never Resolved?
Henry M. Pittman is aLicensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, Acupuncture Detoxification Specialistlicensed... Read more
In This Article
No one is perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect person, a perfect family, or a perfect marriage. A marriage is going to have its ups and downs. This is not a ‘bad thing’ or a ‘good thing’, it is just something that will be there. There are going to be days and times that are going to come when there are problems in the marriage. It is inevitable. But what do you do when those problems become a part of your lives? In other words, what do you do about problems that never get resolved?
The creation of a problem
How are problems created? Problems are created in many ways. One way is when one of the partners experience an unpleasant emotion during a situation. The offended partner may share their emotions and reasons with the other. This leads to them sharing their views which may not be in line with theirs. This is what people refer to as ‘an argument’. In other words, “Here is my position and the supporting evidence for my position.” Each partner doesn’t budge and the conflict remains unresolved.
Decrease of intimacy and closeness
With every additional problem or conflict that is not resolved, it begins to deteriorate the marriage. The partners in the marriage begin to lose intimacy and closeness with each other. All of these problems within the marriage are lingering and unconsciously or consciously building barriers. It is very difficult for two people to maintain closeness when problems are not being resolved. Unresolved issues lay the foundation for resentments. Resentments are nothing more than unresolved anger.
Communication itself is not the issue
So, what’s the problem? Is it communication ? Not exactly, it’s something more specific. Communication in general is not the issue because we communicate all the time in our marriage. The problem here lies under a subgroup or subtype of communication called conflict resolution or the lack of conflict resolution. When there is a problem that arises, both parties begin to engage in conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is a skill that is very important to master in marriages.
Marriages are not free from problems or conflicts. When problems are not addressed and resolved, they begin to take a toll on both partners and the marriage itself. To avoid deterioration of intimacy, respect, and closeness, conflict resolution is essential. Conflict resolution is not automatic. It is a skill that both parties in marriage will develop. Couples can check their local listings, take an online class together, or contact a Licensed Marriage Therapist to get help on this.
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Henry M. Pittman is aLicensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, Acupuncture Detoxification Specialistlicensed by the State of Texas Medical Board. Nationally, Read more he holds the designations as a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Master Addiction Counselor (MAC), Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). Clinically, he is aCertified Anger Resolution Therapist, Certified EMDR Therapist Candidate, Certified Parent Coordinator, and Certified Somatic Experience Practitioner, Read less
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6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage
Few couples like to admit it, but conflict is common to all marriages. We have had our share of conflict and some of our disagreements have not been pretty. We could probably write a book on what not to do!
Start with two selfish people with different backgrounds and personalities. Now add some bad habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of life. Guess what? You are bound to have conflict. It’s unavoidable.
Since every marriage has its tensions, it isn’t a question of avoiding them but of how you deal with them. Conflict can lead to a process that develops oneness or isolation. You and your spouse must choose how you will act when conflict occurs.
Step One: Resolving conflict requires knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.
One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract. Usually a task-oriented individual marries someone who is more people-oriented. People who move through life at breakneck speed seem to end up with spouses who are slower-paced. It’s strange, but that’s part of the reason why you married who you did. Your spouse added a variety, spice, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before.
But after being married for a while (sometimes a short while), the attractions become repellents. You may argue over small irritations—such as how to properly squeeze a tube of toothpaste—or over major philosophical differences in handling finances or raising children. You may find that your backgrounds and your personalities are so different that you wonder how and why God placed you together in the first place.
It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them. Just as Adam accepted God’s gift of Eve, you are called to accept His gift to you. God gave you a spouse who completes you in ways you haven’t even learned yet.
We were no exception. Perhaps the biggest adjustment we faced early in our marriage grew out of our differing backgrounds. I grew up in Ozark, Missouri, a tiny town in the southwestern corner of the “Show-Me” state. Barbara grew up in a country club setting near Chicago and later in Baytown, Texas. Barbara came into our marriage a refined young lady. I was a genuine hillbilly.
It was as though we came from two different countries with totally different traditions, heritages, habits, and values. The differences became apparent early in our marriage. Take furniture, for example. Barbara had an Ethan Allen dream book and she was always looking at it. It was full of things made of solid cherry, solid walnut, solid mahogany. It was nothing for chairs to cost $189.95—per leg.
Step Two: Resolving conflict requires defeating selfishness.
All of our differences are magnified in marriage because they feed what is undoubtedly the biggest source of our conflict—our selfish, sinful nature.
Maintaining harmony in marriage has been difficult since Adam and Eve. Two people beginning their marriage together and trying to go their own selfish, separate ways can never hope to experience the oneness of marriage as God intended. The prophet Isaiah portrayed the problem accurately more than 2,500 years ago when he described basic human selfishness like this: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We are all self-centered; we all instinctively look out for number one, and this leads directly to conflict.
Marriage offers a tremendous opportunity to do something about selfishness. We have seen the Bible’s plan work in our lives, and we’re still seeing it work daily. We have not changed each other; God has changed both of us. The answer for ending selfishness is found in Jesus and His teachings. He showed us that instead of wanting to be first, we must be willing to be last. Instead of wanting to be served, we must serve. Instead of trying to save our lives, we must lose them. We must love our neighbors (our spouses) as much as we love ourselves. In short, if we want to defeat selfishness, we must give up, give in, and give all.
As Philippians 2:1-8 tells us:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
To experience oneness, you must give up your will for the will of another. But to do this, you must first give up your will to Christ, and then you will find it possible to give up your will for that of your spouse.
Grab some ground rules to transform your fights into communication breakthroughs.
Step Three: Resolving conflict requires pursuing the other person.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” The longer I live the more I realize how difficult those words are for many couples. Living peaceably means pursuing peace. It means taking the initiative to resolve a difficult conflict rather than waiting for the other person to take the first step.
To pursue the resolution of a conflict means setting aside your own hurt, anger, and bitterness. It means not losing heart. My challenge to you is to “keep your relationships current.” In other words, resolve that you will remain in solid fellowship daily with your spouse—as well as with your children, parents, coworkers, and friends. Don’t allow Satan to gain a victory by isolating you from someone you care about.
Step Four: Resolving conflict requires loving confrontation.
Wordsworth said, “He who has a good friend needs no mirror.” Blessed is the marriage where both spouses feel the other is a good friend who will listen, understand, and work through any problem or conflict. To do this well takes loving confrontation.
Confronting your spouse with grace and tactfulness requires wisdom, patience, and humility. Here are a few other tips we’ve found useful:
- Check your motivation. Will your words help or hurt? Will bringing this up cause healing, wholeness, and oneness, or further isolation?
- Check your attitude. Loving confrontation says, “I care about you. I respect you and I want you to respect me. I want to know how you feel.” Don’t hop on your bulldozer and run your spouse down. Approach your spouse lovingly.
- Check the circumstances. This includes timing, location, and setting. Don’t confront your spouse, for example, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or in the middle of settling a squabble between the children. Also, never criticize, make fun of, or argue with your spouse in public.
- Check to see what other pressures may be present. Be sensitive to where your spouse is coming from. What’s the context of your spouse’s life right now?
- Listen to your spouse. Seek to understand his or her view, and ask questions to clarify viewpoints.
- Be sure you are ready to take it as well as dish it out. You may start to give your spouse some “friendly advice” and soon learn that what you are saying is not really his problem, but yours!
- During the discussion, stick to one issue at a time. Don’t bring up several. Don’t save up a series of complaints and let your spouse have them all at once.
- Focus on the problem, rather than the person. For example, you need a budget and your spouse is something of a spendthrift. Work through the plans for finances and make the lack of budget the enemy, not your spouse.
- Focus on behavior rather than character. This is the “you” message versus the “I” message again. You can assassinate your spouse’s character and stab him right to the heart with “you” messages like, “You’re always late—you don’t care about me at all; you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” The “I” message would say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t let me know you’ll be late. I would appreciate if you would call so we can make other plans.”
- Focus on the facts rather than judging motives. If your spouse forgets to make an important call, deal with the consequences of what you both have to do next rather than say, “You’re so careless; you just do things to irritate me.”
- Above all, focus on understanding your spouse rather than on who is winning or losing. When your spouse confronts you, listen carefully to what is said and what isn’t said. For example, it may be that he is upset about something that happened at work and you’re getting nothing more than the brunt of that pressure.
Step Five: Resolving conflict requires forgiveness.
No matter how hard two people try to love and please each other, they will fail. With failure comes hurt. And the only ultimate relief for hurt is the soothing salve of forgiveness.
The key to maintaining an open, intimate, and happy marriage is to ask for and grant forgiveness quickly. And the ability to do that is tied to each individual’s relationship with God.
About the process of forgiveness, Jesus said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14–15). The instruction is clear: God insists that we are to be forgivers, and marriage—probably more than any other relationship—presents frequent opportunities to practice.
Forgiving means giving up resentment and the desire to punish. By an act of your will, you let the other person off the hook. And as a Christian you do not do this under duress, scratching and screaming in protest. Rather, you do it with a gentle spirit and love, as Paul urged: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Step Six: Resolving conflict requires returning a blessing for an insult.
First Peter 3:8-9 says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
Every marriage operates on either the “Insult for Insult” or the “Blessing for Insult” relationship. Husbands and wives can become extremely proficient at trading insults—about the way he looks, the way she cooks, or the way he drives and the way she cleans house. Many couples don’t seem to know any other way to relate to each other.
What does it mean to return a blessing for an insult? Chapter three of 1 Peter goes on to say “For, ‘the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it'” (verses 10-11).
To give a blessing first means stepping aside or simply refusing to retaliate if your spouse gets angry. Changing your natural tendency to lash out, fight back, or tell your spouse off is just about as easy as changing the course of the Mississippi River. You can’t do it without God’s help, without yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit.
It also means doing good. Sometimes doing good simply takes a few words spoken gently and kindly, or perhaps a touch, a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. It might mean making a special effort to please your spouse by performing a special act of kindness.
Finally, being a blessing means seeking peace, actually pursuing it. When you eagerly seek to forgive, you are pursuing oneness, not isolation.
As difficult as it is to work through conflict in marriage, we can claim God’s promises as we do so. Not only does God bless our efforts based on His Word, but He also tells us He has an ultimate purpose for our trials. First Peter 1:6-7 tells us,
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
God’s purpose in our conflicts is to test our faith, to produce endurance, to refine us, and to bring glory to Himself. This is the hope He gives us—that we can actually approach our conflicts as an opportunity to strengthen our faith and to glorify God.
Copyright © 2002 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Much of this material was adapted by permission from Staying Close by Dennis Rainey, ©1989, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.
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What are dysfunctional family relationships?
Common causes of family conflict, tips on interacting with difficult family members, when to cut ties with family members, dealing with difficult family relationships.
Struggling to coexist with difficult family members? Learn about common sources of conflict and how to deal with dysfunctional family relationships.
Mothers, fathers, siblings—your closest family members can form a lifelong social support system. They can celebrate your highs and give you comfort when you're at your lows. Even so, disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to happen. Minor conflicts between family members are normal, and they typically resolve on their own or with some constructive dialogue. But other conflicts can be much more significant. In cases where resentment and toxic patterns arise, family interactions can become lasting sources of frustration and tear relationships apart.
Difficult family relationships can take on many forms. You might have an overly critical dad who makes you feel anxious. Perhaps a sibling's jealousy is a constant source of tension at family functions. Or maybe you believe a new in-law's controlling behavior leads to unnecessary drama.
These turbulent family relationships can have long-lasting effects on your health and well-being. You might:
- Begin to blame yourself for these poor relationships.
- Experience fear and anxiety surrounding family or holiday events.
- Hesitate to reach out to other family members.
- Suffer from lack of emotional or financial support during hard times.
- Develop trouble sleeping or focusing due to the stress of these interactions.
Research even indicates that poor relationships with parents, siblings, or spouses can contribute to midlife depression symptoms . Exposure to domestic conflicts can also have a long-term impact on a child's well-being as well. One longitudinal study found that domestic arguments and violence can increase a child's risk of developing mental and physical health problems later in life.
To minimize these consequences, you can learn how to identify causes of family tension and take steps to create peaceful interactions. While you might eventually find that cutting ties is the best option for your health and happiness, there are approaches you can take that can help repair family bonds and improve your relationships with those closest to you.
Speak to a Licensed Therapist
Before you learn how to deal with difficult family members, it helps to examine why those relationships are rocky to begin with. Consider these common causes of family disputes and ways to navigate them:
Family members tend to have some degree of financial overlap. Siblings might bicker over an inheritance. Parents may have strong opinions on how their children handle money. Or adult children might feel the need to control their aging parents' finances.
When it comes to large family events, such as weddings or holiday parties, financial disagreements can often come to a head. However, there are ways to navigate money-related problems within your family.
Put things in writing. If you expect a family member to pay you back for a personal loan, for example, make a written agreement between the two of you. This can help you avoid arguments or even legal disputes.
Set boundaries. If a family member is pressuring you to loan or give them money or wants to dictate your finances, it's important to clarify the type of behavior you won't tolerate. Be clear so your family member will know when they’ve crossed the line.
Know when to be transparent. You don't have to share all of your financial details with anyone. But, in cases where your decisions may affect your family members, it's best to be transparent. You might want to talk to your children about details of their inheritance to avoid a future conflict, for example, or let your siblings know why you can't contribute to a shared expense.
[Read: Coping with Financial Stress]
Research from 2020 shows that about 19 percent of Americans are acting as unpaid family caregivers. The stresses and responsibilities of being a caregiver can weigh heavily on family relationships.
Studies indicate that tension between siblings tends to increase when a parent begins to need some level of caregiving. Perhaps you believe your sibling is in denial over your parent's health and needs to be more proactive. Or maybe you and your sibling disagree on whether an assisted living facility is the right housing choice for your parent.
Conflicts over caregiving aren't limited to sibling relationships. You might have arguments with your parents or spouse over how to raise your children.
When you and another family member are at odds over caregiving, try these tips:
Be open about what level of support you need as a caregiver. If you keep your feelings to yourself, resentment can grow and increase tensions.
Look for compromise and accept other people's limitations. If your sibling can't physically assist with caregiving, perhaps they can offer financial help. Remember to show your appreciation when your sibling takes on responsibilities.
If someone else is completely unable or unwilling to help with parental caregiving, try looking for support outside of your family .
[Read: Family Caregiving]
New family members
As your family expands, so does the potential for new conflicts. In one study of estrangement between mothers and adult children, more than 70 percent of the mothers said other family members caused the rift. The mothers often pointed to the child's partner or spouse as the problem.
These conflicts aren't limited to mothers and children, of course. You and your brother-in-law might have a contentious relationship. Or perhaps your father-in-law always seems to expect too much from you. To better get along with your in-laws:
Expect differences. Different families have different expectations, boundaries, and ways of doing things. Do you see your daughter-in-law as an untactful or even rude family member? Maybe she comes from a family background that encourages blunt language or tolerates teasing.
Focus on their most positive traits. Your in-laws are part of your family because someone else in your family saw the good in them. If you're having a hard time seeing past their flaws, try making a list of their strengths.
Find common interests. Although it's not always easy, you can usually find shared interests if you look hard enough. Ask about your in-laws' hobbies, passions, and past experiences until you find something that's relatable.
Political and religious differences
Religious and political similarities can affect the strength of family bonds. For example, studies indicate that when mothers share the same religion as adult children, they tend to experience higher-quality relationships.
On the other hand, when family members don't have the same views on religion or politics, it can trigger heated arguments. Maybe your sibling objects to group prayers before meals. Or perhaps you hear insults and snide remarks when you express your political views. Here's how to deal with difficult family members who have opposing views:
Identify useful conversations. When a debate starts, ask yourself what you hope to get from the interaction. Do you expect to completely change your family member's mind? Or are you trying to gain insight into their beliefs? Is it at all possible that either of you will budge on your position? Even if you’ll never agree about something, you can still move the conversation forward if you’re both willing to be open and respectful of each other’s views.
Avoid sweeping generalizations. Statements like, “Everyone on the left is evil” or “Everyone on the right is an idiot” can quickly escalate arguments and further entrench people.
Try to see the human element in the other person's values. Many political beliefs are shaped by an underlying concern for society, such as economic or environmental stability. By recognizing that, the other person’s views may not seem as wildly different from your own.
Know when to exit heated arguments. When emotions run too hot, make a respectful but firm exit from the conversation. You can say something like, “I'm not sure if this is productive. Let's leave it there.” Contain the urge to have the “last word.”
Be mindful of your jokes. Humor can often help diffuse a tense argument . However, avoid aggressive jokes that target the other person's beliefs or values.
Unresolved family issues
Things that happened in the past can have a lasting effect on family relationships. Did you and your son have an explosive argument when he was a teenager? If the matter went unresolved, he might continue to be resentful or distrustful of you. Did your parents seem to favor you over your brothers? Jealousy could become an underlying source of tension for your siblings.
Unresolved issues can often crop up during milestone events or times of change within the family. For example, insecurities over parental favoritism might reappear as you and your siblings begin to act as caregivers to an aging parent.
If you're the one holding onto an issue, speak up. Invite the other person to a private conversation, where you can bring up the issue and share your perspective. Be willing to forgive if the party apologizes for their part in the problem.
If a family member is holding resentment, be empathetic. Try to understand how they perceived events and how the past continues to affect them. If you caused some harm to them in the past, apologize and ask how you can repair the damage to the relationship. For example, if you lost your temper with your son in the past, explain how you plan to do better going forward.
If neither person is at fault, it can still help to acknowledge the past and the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family. Remember that no family is perfect, and past events influence present-day perceptions. Focus on what steps you can take in the present to resolve the conflict .
Despite your best efforts and intentions, sometimes you'll find that you simply can't get along with a family member. Perhaps someone continues to hold a grudge against you or refuses to change their behavior.
Your general plan might be to avoid difficult family members. However, that strategy can often be foiled by weddings, funerals, and other family gatherings. Here are some alternate options:
Manage your own stress
Prioritize de-stressing before and after you have to interact with a difficult family member. Effective stress management techniques can range from meditation to going for a walk to journaling your thoughts or chatting face-to-face with a close friend.
If you start to feel stressed by the difficult family member during the event itself, don't hesitate to excuse yourself from the room and use some quick stress relief techniques to clear your head.
- Rely on your senses to ground yourself in the moment. Take in a deep breath of fresh air, find a friendly cat or dog to pet, or hum a tune to yourself. You can also use your imagination to picture something soothing, like your child's face or a relaxing setting.
- If you tend to freeze when under stress, activities that involve physical movement are often most effective. Consider doing some stretches, swaying to background music, or jogging in place to burn off tension.
Set and maintain boundaries
Strong, clear boundaries can protect you from toxic family interactions. Imagine you and your spouse are about to visit overbearing in-laws. Talk to your spouse and set a limit on how long the visit will last. You can also set boundaries on conversation topics. If you and your in-laws have had heated arguments over religion, it might be best to steer clear of the topic.
If someone attempts to cross your boundaries, keep your temper in check. Instead, be clear and direct about the consequence. For example, you could say something like: “If you keep bringing up that topic, I'll be leaving early.”
- Ritual offers online counseling, practical tools, and proven interventions to help you heal and strengthen your relationships and improve your communication skills.
Build your emotional intelligence (EQ)
By strengthening your emotional intelligence, you can improve your ability to understand, manage, and express emotions. This can have a positive effect not just on your family relationships but on your overall mental health.
To enhance your EQ, you need to focus on four key skills:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
You can develop these skills by taking steps such as using mindfulness to assess your emotional state and nonverbal cues. Read Improving Family Relationships with Emotional Intelligence for more strategies.
Change your focus
Be willing to acknowledge your family member's strengths as well as their flaws. Perhaps your sibling is confrontational and demanding, but at least they're always willing to help finance family events. Or maybe your mother-in-law is overly critical of you but always supportive of your children.
Acknowledge that a difficult family member might be going through rough circumstances of their own. From personal insecurities to substance addiction or mental illness, certain underlying factors could be fueling your family member's behavior.
Although these factors don't excuse the behavior, by being more empathetic you might gain a better understanding of the person and why they act the way they do.
Use conflict resolution skills
Conflict resolution skills can come in handy anytime you're dealing with family drama. These skills involve managing stress in the moment , being aware of both your own emotions and the other person's, and prioritizing resolution over winning the argument.
You might notice that an aging parent is lashing out due to a feeling of declining independence. A deescalating step might be to ask them to do you a favor or give them a task that allows them to feel needed.
[Read: Conflict Resolution Skills]
Limit expectations and practice acceptance
Make peace with the fact that some people have viewpoints or priorities that may never match your own. Your adult children, siblings, or parents will do what they feel is right for them, and you can't control their behavior. Try to treasure the relationship for what it is, or focus on other relationships that bring you joy.
At what point is a dysfunctional family relationship no longer worth saving? That may depend on different factors.
What's the potential for change? The other person must be willing to acknowledge the problem and work to change. Some people don't want to change, and you can't control their behavior. If you're dealing with a narcissistic family member , their inflated self-image, lack of empathy, and manipulative ways can hinder any meaningful progress.
How severe is the conflict? In cases of abuse , it’s usually advisable to cut ties with the family member. Remember that abuse doesn't necessarily have to be physical. People who subject you to verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse can also harm your sense of well-being. This could include a father-in-law who aims to humiliate you or siblings who use guilt-tripping to manipulate you.
Dealing with doubts
Cutting ties means ending contact with the difficult family member, which is not always easy. You might repeatedly question your decision or have a hard time accepting that the relationship is unsalvageable.
Keep a list of specific reasons why you've decided to end contact. Did the person cross your boundaries too many times? Did the stress of your interactions negatively affect other areas of your life? Write it all down, so you don't forget.
How to deal with the grief of ending a relationship
Depending on how close you were to the family member, you may need to take time to grieve the loss of the relationship.
Rather than suppress your feelings, identify and acknowledge them. It's normal to experience anything from anger to sadness to guilt following the end of a relationship. You should also expect grief to intensify on days that remind you of the family member, such as birthdays or holidays.
Talk to friends and other family members about the situation. Now is a good time to reach out for support. Tell the supportive people in your life what you need from them. You might even strengthen bonds with other family members.
Maintain your hobbies and health. Continue to engage in activities you love, and look after your physical healthy by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritious foods. Don't use drugs or alcohol to cope with your negative feelings .
Over time, people's behaviors and circumstances can change. So, know that cutting off ties doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent. If you see evidence that your family member is truly willing to make amends, there may be a chance of reconciliation.
Don't rush reconciliation, though. You should both accept that the process may take time and requires concrete steps for improving the relationship. With a combination of patience and improved communication , you might be able to repair that broken bond and move forward with a healthier relationship.
- Help with Relationships - Articles addressing common relationship problems, such as arguments, conflict, and communication. (Relate UK)
- Buist, K. L., van Tergouw, M. S., Koot, H. M., & Branje, S. (2019). Longitudinal Linkages between Older and Younger Sibling Depressive Symptoms and Perceived Sibling Relationship Quality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence , 48(6), 1190–1202. Link
- Con, G., Suitor, J. J., Rurka, M., & Gilligan, M. (2019). Adult Children’s Perceptions of Maternal Favoritism During Caregiving: Comparisons Between Turkey and the United States. Research on Aging , 41(2), 139–163. Link
- Full-report-caregiving-in-the-united-states-01-21.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2022, from Link
- Gilligan, M., Suitor, J., Nam, S., Routh, B., Rurka, M., & Con, G. (2017). Family Networks and Psychological Well-Being in Midlife. Social Sciences , 6(3), 94. Link
- Paradis, A. D., Reinherz, H. Z., Giaconia, R. M., Beardslee, W. R., Ward, K., & Fitzmaurice, G. M. (2009). Long-Term Impact of Family Arguments and Physical Violence on Adult Functioning at Age 30 Years: Findings From the Simmons Longitudinal Study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry , 48(3), 290–298. Link
- Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J., Coleman, J., Wang, J., & Yan, J. J. (2021). Mothers’ attributions for estrangement from their adult children. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice . Link
- Sechrist, J., Suitor, J. J., Vargas, N., & Pillemer, K. (2011). The Role of Perceived Religious Similarity in the Quality of Mother-child Relations in Later Life: Differences Within Families and Between Races. Research on Aging , 33(1), 3–27. Link
- Suitor, J. J., Gilligan, M., Johnson, K., & Pillemer, K. (2014). Caregiving, Perceptions of Maternal Favoritism, and Tension Among Siblings. The Gerontologist , 54(4), 580–588. Link
- Waldinger, R. J., Vaillant, G. E., & Orav, E. J. (2007). Childhood Sibling Relationships as a Predictor of Major Depression in Adulthood: A 30-Year Prospective Study. American Journal of Psychiatry , 164(6), 949–954. Link
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Can A Marriage Thrive With Unresolved Conflict?
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, College Instructor, Author
For most of my life, I've believed the myth that good marriages are relatively free of conflict. This misconception has caused me anguish on many occasions. It's also been shared by my clients as they complain about perpetual conflict in their marriage and consider divorce as an option to marital distress.
According to author Marcia Naomi Berger , many couples believe that if a marriage is healthy all issues get resolved. She writes: "Simply put, it is not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it is the manner in which the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving." This view that many problems in a marriage can be managed is shared by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman who advises us that couples can live with unsolvable differences about ongoing issues in their relationship as long as they aren't deal breakers.
Additionally, Dr. Gottman's research informs us that 69% of problems in a marriage don't get resolved but can be managed successfully. There is some evidence that differences between partners can be complimentary. That they are advantageous and don't create a hindrance to the relationship. Instead, they contribute to its growth. When each partner approaches one another as an equal, working through conflict can nourish rather than drain a relationship.
For instance, Jena and Trevor, both in their mid-thirties and married for eight years argue about household chores. "I've been unhappy with Trevor's messiness for some time," complains Jena. "I've asked Trevor to be more considerate of my needs and put his clothes away, but things don't appear to be changing. It feels like I'm at the bottom of his list." To this Trevor laments: "Jena puts too much focus on neatness and misses the big picture. Most guys are slobs and I think I do OK." The common thread in these statements is this couple's focus on "fixing" the other person rather than on taking specific actions to change their part in a relationship dynamic that is undesirable.
During their second counseling session, I had both Jena and Trevor make a list of their priorities and non-negotiable deal breakers. Interestingly, Jena decided she could tolerate Trevor's messiness as long as he continued to do his own laundry and take his shirts to the cleaners. On the other hand, Trevor felt that he could live with Jena's complaints about his messiness if she could find ways to compliment him more for his nice qualities -- such as being a good cook and supportive partner.
It appears that Jena and Trevor have learned the art of compromise. The authors of the study The Normal Bar write: "This seems to be the core secret for relationship happiness: frequent compromises over time, and balance in giving and getting, conceding and winning."
What is the meaning of the word compromise? It's a settlement by which each side makes concessions. And while this doesn't sound romantic, if you decide you want to save your marriage, you have to learn to negotiate -- which is the essence of compromise. Negotiation is about diplomacy and is a tool that will help you and your partner get on the same side and to become intimately connected.
Further, distinguished psychologist Harriet Lerner posits that a good fight can clear the air. She writes: "and it's nice to know we can survive conflict and even learn from it. Many couples, however, get trapped in endless rounds of fighting and blaming that they don't know how to get out of. When fights go unchecked and unrepaired, they can eventually erode love and respect which are the bedrock of any successful relationship."
Some people avoid conflict because it may have signified the end of their parents' marriage or lead to bitter disputes. Marriage counselor, Michele Weiner Davis explains that avoiding conflict backfires in intimate relationships. She posits that bottling up negative thoughts and feelings doesn't give your partner a chance to change their behavior. Weiner cautions that one of the secrets of a good marriage or romantic relationship is learning to choose battles wisely and to distinguish between petty issues and important ones.
Studies show that productive arguments can actually help couples stay together. Dr. John Gottman , founder of the Gottman Institute , found that happy couples learn ways to have more productive disagreements that are more like discussions than arguments. He posits that the thing that seems to be breaking up many couples is difficulty bouncing back from a conflict or disagreement in a healthy way. Gottman tells Business Insider that you've got to get back on track after a fight if you don't want issues to fester.
7 steps to dealing effectively with conflict in intimate relationships (based on Gottman's research and my clinical observations):
• Create time and a relaxed atmosphere to interact with your partner on a regular basis. Ask for what you need in an assertive (non-aggressive) way and be willing to see your partner's side of the story.
• Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude . Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner's requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Take a risk and deal with hurt feelings -- especially if it's an important issue rather than stonewalling or shutting down.
• Use "I" statements rather than "you" statements that tend to come across as blameful -- such as "I felt hurt when purchased the car without discussing it with me." • Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
• Show attunement with your partner with non-verbal eye contact, body posture, and gestures that demonstrate your intention to listen and compromise.
• Determine your deal-breakers -- those non-negotiable items that are crucial to your happiness. For instance, your partner might want an open relationship and you might feel strongly that both you and your partner need to honor fidelity.
• Establish an open-ended dialogue . Don't make threats. Avoid saying things you'll regret later. Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.
In closing, using compromise is an essential tool to preserving a marriage. Discussing concerns that arise with your partner in a timely and respectful way will help you become better at repair skills. If you embrace the notion that conflict is an inevitable part of an intimate relationship, and that not all problems have to be resolved, you'll bounce back from disagreements faster and build a successful long-lasting relationship.
Follow Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW on Twitter , Facebook , and movingpastdivorce.com . Terry is pleased to announce that her new book Daughters of Divorce : Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents' Breakup and Enjoy A Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship was published in January of 2016.
Terry Gaspard, Contributor
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10 Things Men Do In Relationships When They Have Low Self-Esteem
Posted: November 17, 2023 | Last updated: November 17, 2023
Men with low self-esteem tend to see unresolved issues rear their ugly head, especially when they’re in romantic relationships. If you’re dating a man who does these things, chances are he’s struggling with his self-worth and needs to focus on boosting it before he can be a fulfilled person or a good partner.
1. They apologize way too much (even when it’s not their fault).
Men with low self-esteem often find themselves apologizing constantly, even for things that aren't their fault. It's like they're always on the back foot, thinking they've done something wrong. This excessive apologizing can stem from a fear of conflict or a deep-seated belief that they're always to blame. While owning up to mistakes is admirable, over-apologizing can actually undermine their credibility and make their genuine apologies seem less sincere. It's crucial to recognize when an apology is really warranted and when it's a symptom of deeper insecurities.
2. They lavish their partners with material gifts.
Showering partners with gifts might seem generous, but when it's excessive, it can be a sign of low self-esteem. These men might feel they need to ‘buy' love or affection because they don't believe they're enough on their own. While gifts are a lovely part of a relationship, relying on them heavily can create an imbalance. It's important for them to realize that true emotional connection and mutual respect are about more than just material things.
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4. They downplay their achievements.
Men with low self-esteem often have trouble accepting and acknowledging their own successes. They might brush off compliments or downplay their achievements. It's as if they can't believe they're genuinely deserving of accolades. This behavior not only diminishes their accomplishments but can also prevent them from recognizing their own worth. Celebrating achievements, no matter how small, is a key step in building self-confidence and self-esteem.
5. They experience chronic self-doubt.
Chronic self-doubt is a common symptom of low self-esteem. These men might constantly question their decisions, abilities, or worth, which can be exhausting not just for them but also for their partners. This relentless self-doubt can lead to dependency in relationships, as they seek constant reassurance and validation. Building self-confidence is a personal journey, but it's important for the health of the relationship that they start to recognize and appreciate their own value.
6. They seek out unhealthy escapes.
Men grappling with low self-esteem might turn to unhealthy habits or behaviors as a form of escape. This could be anything from excessive drinking to overindulging in video games. It's like they're trying to drown out their insecurities or feelings of inadequacy. While everyone needs a break now and then, using these escapes as a crutch can lead to bigger problems and avoid addressing the underlying issues of self-esteem. It's important for them to find healthier ways to cope and to confront their feelings head-on.
7. They hide their vulnerabilities.
Admitting vulnerabilities can be tough, especially for men who equate it with weakness due to societal norms. Those with low self-esteem often go to great lengths to hide any perceived flaws or weaknesses. They might put up a tough exterior to mask their insecurities. The problem is, this prevents genuine emotional connection and can create a barrier in the relationship. Being open about vulnerabilities is a sign of strength and can lead to deeper, more meaningful connections.
8. They resort to passive-aggressiveness.
Instead of addressing issues directly, men with low self-esteem might resort to passive-aggressive behaviors. This can manifest as sarcastic remarks, silent treatment, or subtle digs. It's a way of expressing dissatisfaction without having to confront the issue head-on. However, this approach can be confusing and hurtful for their partner and can lead to unresolved conflicts. Clear and direct communication is essential in addressing issues in a healthy way.
9. They can’t accept praise or compliments.
Accepting praise or compliments can be challenging for those with low self-esteem. They might brush off kind words, or worse, respond with self-deprecating comments. It's as if they don't believe they're worthy of positive recognition. This constant dismissal can be frustrating for their partners and can erode the mutual appreciation that's vital in a relationship. Learning to accept compliments graciously is a small but significant step towards building self-worth and confidence.
10. They struggle with a fear of abandonment .
Men with low self-esteem often harbor a deep-seated fear of being abandoned. It's like they're constantly worried that their partner will leave them for someone “better.” This fear can stem from not feeling good enough and can lead to clingy or needy behavior in relationships. It might manifest as the constant need for reassurance or an overreaction to any sign of distancing by their partner. This fear of abandonment can put a strain on the relationship, as it creates unnecessary pressure and can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Addressing these fears directly, possibly with the help of a therapist, and working on building self-esteem are crucial for overcoming this challenge.
11. They over-commit to prove their worth.
In an effort to prove their worth, men with low self-esteem might over-commit themselves, both in and out of relationships. It could be volunteering for every task at work or going out of their way to do things for their partner, even at the cost of their own well-being. While this might stem from a good place, it's often about seeking validation. The problem is, constantly trying to prove your worth can lead to burnout and resentment. It's important for them to realize that their worth isn't tied to how much they do for others. Setting healthy boundaries and learning to say no when necessary are key steps in acknowledging and honoring their own value.
The post 10 Things Men Do In Relationships When They Have Low Self-Esteem appeared first on Bolde .
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- Why do couples divorce after decades of marriage?
From irreconcilable differences, to changing societal norms to people growing apart, the reasons for divorce are diverse and complex. Here are some reasons why people split up after decades of marriage
For the longest time, marriage has been considered sacrosanct — a lifelong commitment, especially in a country like India where matrimony is viewed as convergence of not just two individuals but two families. However, with the rising complexities of modern life, the divorce rate in India has been steadily increasing year by year.
Despite having the lowest divorce rate globally — estimated to be around 1.1% — in the past few years, India has witnessed a rise in divorce cases, according to a report by United Nations. This trend is even more prominent for couples who have been in long-term marriages of 20 years and more.
While the causes of divorce differ from relationship to relationship, most couples struggle with similar issues that lead to the breakdown of their marriage. From irreconcilable differences, to changing societal norms to people growing apart, the reasons for divorce are diverse and complex. Here are some reasons why people split up after decades of marriage:
Changing family dynamics
In the past, larger families with more defined roles for spouses often provided a sense of structure and interdependence that helped couples weather challenges and stay together.
“However, with the rise of smaller nuclear families and more egalitarian relationships, couples may face greater pressure to juggle individual needs and aspirations while maintaining a strong marital bond,” says Dr Ashima Ranjan, consultant of psychiatry, Yatharth Super Speciality Hospitals.
Empty nest syndrome
As children leave the home and couples enter the empty nest phase , they may find themselves rediscovering themselves and facing new challenges.
“Couples may find that they no longer have a shared focus or common goals. While this period of transition can be a time for growth and renewal, it can also strain relationships if couples have not nurtured their connection or adapted to their changing roles,” explains Dr Jyoti Kapoor, founder-director and senior psychiatrist, Manasthali.
While infidelity can be a factor for divorce at any age, its occurrence seems to be more common in longer-term marriages. “This may be due in part to the greater opportunities for connection and temptation that exist in today’s interconnected world,” Dr Ranjan notes.
As life expectancy has increased, people may find themselves wanting to make the most of their remaining years. This means as people age, their priorities may shift. According to Dr Ranjan, couples may find that they have grown apart or that their individual needs and goals have diverged significantly.
“Some may reevaluate what they want from life and relationships, leading to the realisation that they want something different from what their current marriage provides,” says Dr Kapoor.
When there are too many differences or problems that can’t be worked out, the marriage may break down. “Long-standing issues or unresolved conflicts in a marriage may become more pronounced over time,” says Dr Kapoor.
A significant contributor to the rising divorce rates is the remarkable growth of Indian women in recent years — both financially and socially. “Societal attitudes toward divorce have shifted over time, making it more socially acceptable for individuals,” says Dr Kapoor.
For those on the brink of divorce, there is hope. Seeking individual and couples’ counselling can not only save the marriage but also elevate it to new heights.
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