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Fight Nice  

One of the most important factors in creating a lasting love is how couples handle conflict.  In fact, one of the best predictors of divorce is how couples handle conflict in the first year of marriage.  Those couples who have destructive patterns of conflict in the first year of marriage are more likely to divorce later than couples with better patterns of conflict.  More expression of anger and more pessimism about conflict in the first year of marriage also predict later divorce.

Why is conflict so important in relationships?  It might be because there is a lot more conflict than many people realize.  John Gottman, one of the leading marriage researchers in the world, reports that more than 2/3 of the conflict between couples never get resolved.  And that is for happy couples!  What that means is how couples handle conflict is much more important than the resolution of conflict. 

How do successful couples handle conflict?  They tend to treat each other in softer ways and be more kind to each other.  They bring up issues they are concerned about gently rather than in an accusatory manner.  They are more considerate of their partners and do a better job of listening and communicating they understand, and care about, their partners.  One of the things that helps with this is letting go of the belief that understanding means agreement.  Sometimes people seem to be invested in not understanding because they have the belief that if they understand they will have to agree.  Not so.  We all owe our partners our best attempt possible at understanding them, but we don’t necessarily owe them agreement.

It is also important that disagreement doesn’t get taken personally.  Healthy couples are secure enough in themselves as individuals that they can tolerate different ideas and differences of opinion with their partners.  They don’t require agreement with everything in order to feel loved and cared about by their partners.

Let me share an exercise I often give to couples who are having difficulty with their conflict spiraling out of control with anger.  I ask them to only have arguments with each other or discuss differences when they are holding hands.  It is more difficult to be mean to someone when you are holding their hand.  I think the hand holding also creates a physical connection that helps couples maintain a sense of connection through conflict.  If you are struggling with conflict that feels destructive, why don’t you give it a try?  Let me know how it goes. 

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