In the early days of dating, it's easy to get swept away in the early glow of the 'forming stage', where you both seem to be on the same page as each other, the dance of give and take is going smoothly, and everything is hunky dory. Sound familiar? This is because, in those early days, you were perhaps more willing to listen to your partner and be more flexible.
Research shows that in those early loved up stages, couples are experiencing an increase in a love chemical that not only creates natural highs, but also helps to mask your partner’s flaws. There are signs of surging dopamine, increased energy, focused attention, and absolute joy in basking in even the smallest detail of your new relationship.
However, as time goes by and life settles into a pattern, it is no surprise that as those early chemicals fade away and real life settles in, some of life’s stressors like: work pressures, money worries, kids, begin to demand more time and attention. This may lead to frustration, agitation and you guessed it, conflict.
When it comes to disagreements, it's common practice for people to revert to their 'default setting'. That is, the habitual and automatic way you react without thinking when you’re stressed out and angry.
Angry feelings can mean you just end up yelling or shouting your point of view, avoiding your partner, or sulking, none of which move things on and which instead can lead to a build up of resentment.
Instead, my suggestion is for you to use I feel’ statements to get your point across when you and your partner disagree. Own your stuff. Instead of saying “You always..”, instead start with “I feel”. This creates a safer space for honesty.
Let's look at a case study:
Josh and Meena who’d been together for 7 years. They were a few weeks away from the birth of their first child, and Josh felt guilty that he was often away working for days at a time and thought Meena really needed support. Without discussing anything with her, he invited his mother over to stay and keep her company during his absence.
Meena felt completely blindsided. She yelled at him and told him he was inconsiderate and thoughtless. She didn’t want a stand-in, she wanted her partner. She confided in her closest friend that Josh’s behaviour was disrespectful and that he was treating her like a baby. He thought he was being supportive, and she thought he was being the opposite!
How could this have shaken out differently? Josh needed to share his feelings with Meena, instead of just coming up with a solution. Meena reacted (yelling angrily) rather than responding (pausing to consider the situation). When poor communication kicks in, anger is not far behind. So, instead of paying attention to what Josh was saying and being honest about her feelings, she instead lashed out.
How do you manage conflict as a couple? Download the Paired app to learn more about your partner and relationship by comparing answers to our weekly couple's quizzes.
Next time you find yourself in a disagreement, try using ‘I feel’ statements to get your point across constructively. Follow these five steps:
Download the Paired app forcouple quizzesand daily questions to enjoy with your partner, plus exclusiverelationship tipsfrom the experts on everything from sex and intimacy, to managing conflict, communication in a couple, and keeping the spark alive.
Anjula is Vice President for the UK's leading relationship charity Relate. She is also a Fellow for the National Counselling Society and has worked in the field of relationship counselling for over 20 years.
During this time, she has worked with a broad range of clients in a diversity of settings from the city and financial world to universities, and authored books including: 'How to Do Relationships'.
She has worked on numerous hit television shows, ranging from: on-screen expert on Big Brother, to resident psychologist on This Morning, to most recently, presenting the cutting-edge relationship series, 'Sex Tape'.