Dealing with Confrontation in a Relationship

by Norris Law Group on July 3, 2014

Dealing with Confrontation in a RelationshipConflict resolution can be a very tricky thing for many couples. Some people handle conflict by trying to ignore it or “sweep it under the rug.” But over time, little conflicts can “mushroom” into bigger conflicts—and can even threaten marriages if they are not dealt with right away. Dr. Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist and professor, offers some advice about how couples can handle conflict in a June 2014 article in Psychology Today.

Howes first offers some ideas as to why people may try to avoid conflict:

  1. Fear of loss.” One may fear confronting someone because of fear that the person will think the “complainer” is too “high maintenance” and will leave. But Howes says that if a person decides to leave over a minor argument or disagreement, then the person wasn’t worth your time in the first place.
  2. “Fear of causing pain.” You may think that your spouse is “fragile.” But give your spouse a chance. He or she is likely much stronger than you think, and may even feel a bit insulted by your choice to not communicate honestly.
  3. “Fear of strain.” Some people avoid confrontation to avoid the physical changes it brings—stress in the muscles, faster breathing, and maybe even a raised heart rate. But you do this when you work out anyway; a minor verbal “skirmish” likely won’t harm you in the long term.
  4. “Fear of failure.” You may be afraid that your spouse just may not listen to you, and then your time dealing with the confrontation will be wasted anyway. Howes suggests using “I” messages rather than “you” messages. For example, rather than saying, “You never do the dishes!” say something like, “I really appreciate it when you take the time to wash your dishes and put them in the dishwasher.”

Howes also suggests taking the “sandwich” approach to conflicts. If you think about a sandwich, the “meat” is surrounded by something good on both sides that holds everything together. Here’s an example of how a “sandwich confrontation” might work:

  • The “bottom bun:” “You always look so sharp in your clothes.”
  • The “meat:” It’s a shame to see them balled up on the floor.”
  • The “top bun:” “They look so much nicer on you when they’re not wrinkled!”

Howes says that “sandwich confrontations” can take away any “bad taste” conflicts may leave in your relationships.

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the areas of divorce and family law. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.


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