Relationships are hard. They have to be. When two different people with separate ideas, beliefs and values occupy a significant space in each others lives, there has to be conflict.
On the flip side, they’re worth it. Deep connection allows for these stumbling blocks to be turned into stepping stones on the path to greater levels of personal growth (more on that here).
But, how do we deal with conflict? How can we mitigate the circumstances that might otherwise cause an escalation in disagreement and ill feeling between two people?
Whilst it’s true that we may not be able to stop conflict from happening some of the time, it’s also true that we can act in a way that can dampen down the flames of anger and resentment once a conflict is under way.
To be honest, this a broad topic and there are a huge number of things that might help. I’m going to focus on just one. One small thing that can make a huge difference in the context of a conflict with your partner… Ask better questions!
This dawned on me as a result of a conflict I’ve just endured. I realised, once again, as I always do, that as difficult as my girlfriend is at times it’s always 50% my fault. And in this particular case, it was because of the quality of my questions and the accusations that they suppose.
Here are some examples of some really poor questions to ask in the context of a conflict and their implications for the other person:
‘What’s the problem?’… Implication: You’ve got a serious attitude right now.
‘Why are you so miserable?’… Implication: You’re miserable and your misery is self-evident and intolerable.
‘Why are you closing off to me?’… Implication: You’re shut down and have no interest in letting me in.
‘What’s happened to you?’… Implication: Something has gone really wrong in your world.
Now, it might seem intuitive and obvious that these are all really poor choices of question with clear-cut accusations embedded within them, but if you ask yourself if you’ve ever thrown something like this into the mix in an argument, I bet the answer is yes! And more-often-than-not, not only did it not help, it actually made things a lot worse.
These things are easy to spot from a place of calm rationality, outside of the heat of conflict. But when you’re riding the emotional intensity of an argument with someone you love, you’ll likely lose your conscious awareness enough to slip into some of these poor routes of questioning/accusing.
Perhaps some of you are thinking, ‘Sure, but if my girlfriend really is miserable I should be able to tell her!’
And maybe you’re right, there probably is a time and a place for that. But maybe there’s a better way.
Maybe the last thing a person who is feeling sad and depressed needs to hear is that their sadness is being outwardly received as ‘misery’ and that this is intolerable, all of which is supposed by the aforementioned question, ‘Why are you so miserable?’
So what can we do to switch things up? How can we ask better questions that lead to resolution as opposed to an amplification of conflict?
The first thing to do is to remain conscious and aware of your communication, including all the implications encoded within it. Take your time and think about what you say before you say it.
Second, from this place of conscious awareness, step outside of the frame of condemnation and accusation and step inside of the frame of being supportive and understanding. Here are some examples:
Rather than asking, ‘What’s the problem?’… How about, ‘Are you feeling okay? Can I help?’
Instead of, ‘Why are you so miserable?’… Try, ‘Is there anything I can do for you? Just let me know.’
In place of, ‘Why are you closing off to me?’… What about, ‘Have I hurt you? I’m sorry, if you need me I’m here.’
And instead of, ‘What’s happened to you?’… Try, ‘Have I done something to offend you? I apologise if so.’
Granted, none of these are a cure-all for whatever might be happening in the moment, but they might help. And one thing is for sure, they certainly won’t make things worse!
In each case you might find that you don’t gather much of a response, and that’s okay! Just wait it out and don’t force the issue, remain receptive and open to whatever comes up, be patient. In the longer term, if you can maintain this frame of being supportive and understanding, things will come good in the end.
This may take some humility at times, particularly when you feel you have been wronged or the other person is acting way out-of-line. But the truth is, this humble stance will usually help them to see that they were wrong or acting out-of-line much more effectively than being accusatory.
“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.” -Lao Tzu
Embrace your softness and humility and allow that softness to permeate the hardness of relationship conflict. In doing so you’ll find you argue less often and arrive at resolutions with more speed and grace.
Be supportive and nurturing, like water, and ask better questions!
Want to get your dating life handled?Sebastian Callow is a personal dating coach for men in London. Unlike other dating services he provides a practical, real-life coaching experience that actually involves meeting and interacting with women in everyday situations. Sebastian helps men develop the comfort and ease to express themselves with raw honesty. If you're unhappy with your dating life and you're hungry for change, the Personal Coaching Course could be exactly what you need.