I hope your parents told you that one of the toughest challenges you might face is maintaining a long-term relationship. With that information you might better realize that the pathway of a relationship may have well-paved sections, but it may be littered with potholes and obstacles, as well. I borrow and adapt a portion of the opening line of Charles Dickens’ (1867) A Tale of Two Cities to complete the phrase, What I know about a long-term relationship… “It [is] the best of times, it [is] the worst of times.” My intention is neither to discourage nor scare you from committing to such a relationship, but I hope to encourage you to be ready for the work it takes to make such a relationship work.
Conflict is one thing that may be occurring during some of those worst of times. The American Heritage Dictionary defines conflict: “A state of disagreement or disharmony between persons or ideas.” Put two people in a room, even BFFs, and there is likely to be disagreement or disharmony, i.e., conflict.
Based on his research, John Gottman emphasizes that when people can effectively deal with conflict, their relationship is more likely to remain stable and happy. Ellie Lisitsa (2012), a blog writer for the Gottman Institute, provides six strategies to positively deal with conflict:
Complain, don’t blame. Criticisms and accusations are not productive, so while you can complain about what your partner may or may not have done, don’t blame. “I hate it when you don’t clean up after yourself” is more productive than blaming, “This place is a mess, because you’re such a slob.”
Start statements with “I” instead of “You”. For example, your partner is likely to get defensive when you say, “You never listen to me,” but less likely to get defensive when you say, “I feel like you are not listening to me.”
Describe what is happening, without evaluating or judging. For instance, I could tell my wife, “You drove the car, and the gas tank is empty.” But, she may have a harder time if I say, “Could you think of someone else for a minute and put some gas in the car?”
Be polite and appreciative. Politeness can help couples maintain emotional closeness, even during difficult conversation. If there is no gas in the car after my wife drove it, I could say, “On your way to the gym, later, please put gas in the tank?”
Don’t store things up! If you have a problem, don’t try to ignore it, talk about it. Time may heal wounds, but when it comes to solving problems, time can make the process more difficult.
Travelers who are aware that challenges await them along a pathway can, before embarking, prepare for those challenges. Therefore, couples who know that they are likely to encounter conflict in their long-term relationship can prepare to resolve conflict, which might help that relationship remain strong and happy.