In relationships, conflicts; verbal disagreements, arguments, and misunderstandings, though normal, are likely to happen now and then, whether it is with your significant other, member(s) of your family, friends or colleagues at work.
When this happens for whatever reason, how we handle it; what we say, how we say it, and what we do determines the outcome of the issue.
While some people are articulately good at expressing themselves, others shy or avoid it as best as they can simply because they don’t know how to express themselves, they don’t want to offend or seem confrontational, or are afraid of doing it wrong even if they are the one’s being hurt.
However, when you keep excusing the issue and letting it slide because you don’t want to sound like a critic, the fact is, it would keep recurring.
Question. What can I do to avoid conflict, and what should I do to stop it from escalating if it seems inevitable?
In order to avoid tension from setting in and building up, it is important to speak up and address the issue in the right manner, and on time so it doesn’t escalate. Talk to your partner, or whoever you are having the issue with and encourage them to do the same.
Why? Because healthy communication is important when building a healthy relationship, and not addressing it constructively will only make things worse.
For instance, when you say to a person, “you are very lazy! All you do all day is eat, sleep and be on your phone. You are very unhelpful!” He/she will feel hurt, may become defensive and angry or even withdraw from you when they feel criticised.
However, when you say to the person, “It upsets me that you don’t do any of the house chores and it would be helpful if you assisted me in doing some of it…” in the right tone and manner, you have gotten the person’s attention.
He/she may have been oblivious to the fact that they neglected the work to you. Bringing it up constructively, opens a window where you both can discuss, find a common ground and come to a sort of agreement.
It is one thing to raise an issue and another to bring up a solution. Once you have tabled the issue, constructively suggest solutions and be specific when listing it.
You should also be open to seeing things from your partner’s perspective, understand where they are coming from, and identify opportunities for compromise that favours you both.
There is a difference between listening to reply and listening to understand. When you find yourself “cross-complaining”, “yes-butting”, interrupting, looking at everything except the person talking to you etc. shows that they don’t have your attention and you don’t care what they want to say.
However, when you let them speak without interrupting, maintain a relaxed eye contact, answer questions that need reply, ask open-ended questions and paraphrase what they said for clarity and try to understand where they are coming from with empathy, you show you care, accept, respect and willing to improve the relationship.
The best way to respond to a negative behaviour; whether sarcasm, anger, name-calling etc. isn’t negative behaviour but reciprocating with a warm calmness or humor to reduce the tension no matter how hard it is.
Sometimes arguments can take an unexpected turn and become heated. In that regard, it is expedient that you maintain calm before either of you say or do something that you may regret and give each other some space to cool off.
you could say:
“I don’t think at this moment I’m doing justice to this conversation. I am going to cool off and when I come back, if you would like and ready, we could talk about it.”
“This isn’t going anywhere, let’s tap out before we both say some things that we will end up regretting.”
“You know what; I am going out for some fresh air, otherwise I am going to regret what I am going to say next and I don’t want to do that. You need to not follow me around and trust that I will come back.”
In situations where things got out of hand, and things were said, it is important to offer a sincere apology and you can say:
“You know what, an apology is important and I admit I was wrong. When I did… yesterday, I was angry; I felt attacked and I regret it. I am really sorry.”
“I feel terrible about the things I said, that was insensitive of me and I wish I had been more thoughtful to your feelings and listened more; I am sorry. Is there anything I can do to make up for what I’ve done?”
“You have every right to be angry and upset with me. I know we talked about this before and I made a mess of things. I am sorry.”
Even though arguments and misunderstandings are normal and sometimes improve relationships, constant arguments can be very exhausting and can take a toll on not just your mental health but your overall wellbeing. If you can’t be yourself or express yourself without fear of retaliation, you may be experiencing abuse. I suggest you see a professional.