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Lessons from a Relationship Coach: Recovering From Conflict

Jun 25, 2008
Arguing, fighting, and withdrawing all have the effect of creating emotional distance. Sadness and anger maintain the distance. If more conflict occurs before these feelings can be resolved, the relationship progressively gets worse and may end.

The following relationship advice can help you to minimize the damage of conflict and get back on a positive track .

REDUCING ANGER AND SADNESS. Anger and sadness do not have to be completely gone before a couple can work on rebuilding. These feelings help couples to work on their relationship. When the anger or sadness is very intense, however, it must be reduced before progress can be made. With extreme sadness or anger it is better to seek professional counseling. Not to seek counseling jeopardizes the individuals as well as the relationship.

REBUILDING TRUST. No matter how much we want someone to trust us (or they want us to trust them), trust must be earned. Anything which results in physical or emotional injury to another results in a loss of trust to a greater or lesser extent. The longer and more severe the action, the greater damage to trust. The following three actions, done consistently over time, will rebuild trust:

1. Listening. Listening affirms that the other person's thoughts and feelings are important. Because relationships are supposed to make us feel important and special, a lack of listening will ultimately destroy a relationship. Talking about problems is not helpful if neither person is listening. To listen well:

*do not say whether you agree or not

* do not say how it makes you feel

* do not try to correct the other person

* do not try to give any kind of evidence that what the person is saying is wrong

Make the goal of your listening to understand what the other person is saying and why they are saying it-- without trying to influence them in any way. A useful structure is for the person speaking to hold an object (such as a pillow). Only the person holding the object is allowed to speak. The object can be passed by the speaker to the other person.

2. Being positive. Whenever you talk to your partner focus on what you want rather than what you don't want. Do not criticize or complain. Do not say, "I want you to not...". That is still saying what you don't want. Say the reverse of that, what you do want--"I want you to...". Telling someone what you don't want will make them defensive and make it less likely you will get what you want.

3. Honoring your commitments. If you say you will do something, then do it. Every time. Although you may have a reason to break your commitment, it will still break trust. If you cannot keep your commitments, then don't make them in the first place. If you have a tendency to forget your commitments, then write them down, schedule them, tie a string on your finger, or whatever you need to do to keep your commitments.

FIND COMMON GROUND When each person is motivated by the same goal, you will have a combined energy for working on it. Achieving even a small goal brings increased hope and positive energy. Many small goals are better than a few big goals. If you have a lot of conflict in your relationship, make your goals one day at a time. You may consider having a relationship coach who will help you to make goals and to achieve them--building greater success in a shorter period of time.

Reducing intense anger and sadness, listening, being positive, keeping your word, and working on common goals are the necessary follow up to conflict. They change a cycle of conflict to a cycle of increasing growth and intimacy. While ideally done by both partners, even one person doing these things can change a destructive relational pattern.

Ultimately, improving your relationships and your life are both up to you--the choices you make and the actions you take. Your life can be wonderful when you take charge and make it that way.
About the Author
Jack Ito PhD is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach. Download his Free Guide to Great Relationships at www.GreatRelationshipCoach.org
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