“Every time I say ‘Can we talk?’ My husband gets super defensive. He responds with, ‘What did I do now?’ Then, we end up in an argument.”
This is an ongoing theme I hear about from many couples during mental health counseling. Couples struggle to manage conflict. Many haven’t developed the skills to be able to have difficult conversations about feelings or effectively listen to one another. This difficulty handling conflict can spill over into other aspects of the relationship such as sexual satisfaction, finances and parenting.
Many times developing new processes can be helpful in developing better conflict management skills and effective communication skills in a relationship. Oftentimes, in couples therapy, I will ask a couple to tell me about one topic they continue to fight about over and over again. During this discussion the couple can usually recite the dialogue verbatim. It is as if they each have a script and are recreating the scene right there in the therapy session.
This is because most of us usually follow the same process in addressing a problem. My client leads with ‘can we talk’ which triggers stress in her spouse because he remembers those words leading to other difficult conversations in the past. He in turns responds with a defensive statement. He is probably hoping that she will back down or avoid dealing with him once he becomes defensive. The cycle of conflict then continues in a negative process.
The first step for many couples is to accept that conflict will continue to exist, even in healthy relationships. Many of us think that if a relationship is healthy it should be peaceful at all times. This is not true. Healthy relationship will encounter stress because you have one or more people with different points of view.
However, having a plan to manage that stress in a positive way is the key to maintaining the relationship in a healthy manner. To develop a healthy relationship both partners must agree on a process and work together to maintain the steps in that process.
1. Set the stage
2. Choose words that are not triggering.
3. Set a time limit on the conversation.
4. Focus on the present and reduce flashbacks to past hurts.
Managing conflict is difficult. It takes practice and patience. If you find that you and your spouse/partner continue to struggle in this area, I encourage you to seek the help of a professional counselor. Having someone guide you through the techniques can be helpful when you are just getting started in building better communication.
Nicole Wallace, LCMHC
Transformation Counseling & Consulting, PLLC
Nicole is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor with over 20 years experience helping adults and children with overcoming trauma, managing life transitions, and developing coping skills. Nicole specializes in helping women heal from anxiety, depression, trauma, and life transitions. Women are often consumed with providing care to others and sometimes we don’t slow down to address our own needs. She provides a caring, non-judgmental therapeutic environment within her practice with the intention to help women process any past trauma and begin to prioritize their own needs. Nicole is certified in the use of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Trauma Focused – Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy teaches an individual to recognize the connection between thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Nicole is founder of Transformation Counseling and Consulting, PLLC.
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