Choose Your Behavior Wisely

By

Timothy D. Evans, Ph.D. & Geri A. Carter, M.A.

During the holidays it is tempting to observe others and be duped into believing everyone else is happy. The holidays are a time when we all put on our “best face.”  If you find yourself struggling with a relationship, during “the most wonderful time of the year,” take heart, you are not alone!

Successful relationships are not defined by being conflict free.  When you choose a long-term partner you inevitably choose a particular set of problems. Your ability to negotiate these differences in a way that feelings of hurt, frustration, and rejection do not become overwhelming is critical in maintaining a satisfying relationship.

During conflict, couples need to convey acceptance and avoid criticism, nagging, and judging. These behaviors only intensify the conflict.  The overall goal in a marital conflict is to maintain respect and stay connected. This is more important than resolving differences. Respecting and accepting differences could be the solution to many of our conflicts.  Keep in mind, some conflicts never get resolved.

Conflict that contains criticism and contempt locks a couple into miserable and hurtful relationships. Both individuals believe they are “right”. There is no absolute truth in marital conflict, only two subjective viewpoints.  The ability to negotiate differences, without displaying contemptuous facial expressions like eye rolling, is crucial to resolving differences.

In the past, conflict in the family was settled by tradition and power. Men were accepted to lead (boss) so women and children were in a poor position to fight and conflict was easily managed. However in the past 40 years women and children have learned they are of equal worth and value. Thus, they often fight back resenting being put down.

When inequality is a source of conflict find a good counselor. A qualified counselor knows something about creating social equality, and will help resolve your immediate concerns.

Otherwise, the key to resolving conflict is what we do with our own behavior.  The most useful and courageous choice is the decision not to fight. Consequently, we open the door for improvement.

There are several things you can do instead of fighting. First, you can insure that you maintain fondness and admiration for your partner. This means focusing on the good, and the courage to forgive the past.

The second choice is to do something different with your own behavior that is satisfying, and has nothing to do with the conflict. If the conflict is too intense then back away. Make sure you do this in a friendly manner and provide a useful exit line, such as ‘lets talk later, and for now agree to disagree”. Then find something you have control over that depends on yourself, not your partner. Focus on something that is possible but is not part of the conflict. Meeting your own needs will give you some time and courage so later you can make a successful repair attempt.

Remember, resentment and contempt hurt relationships. Friendship, acceptance, and cooperation are the keys to creating relationships that free each other into becoming fully functioning human beings. You always have a choice to cooperate or fight. Its up to you!