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Tips for Managing Relationship Conflict

Having an argument does not mean that your relationship is in trouble. Disagreements and differences are an inevitable part of every relationship and what matters is how we discuss and solve disagreements.

The following four strategies from relationship guru John Gottman will help you break patterns of negativity and take a positive approach to solving problems:

1. "Calm down": You can't resolve your differences productively if your heart is racing and you feel overwhelmed. Before you respond, take a deep breath, count to 5 and think about your response.

Halt the negative cycle of your thoughts by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. This is often hard to do but by taking a deep breath and calming yourself physically, you have a chance. A proven approach is to repeat back to your partner exactly what you heard. You can then seek to understand what was said, giving yourself time to reflect.

If the argument starts to get out of hand, ask for a "time out." Taking 5 to 20 minutes away from your partner will calm you enough to allow you to listen better and discuss the subject objectively rather than emotionally. Soothe yourself by taking deep breaths, a short walk, or even a short drive.

2. "Speak non-defensively": Listen and speak in a way that does not engender defensiveness but instead fosters healthy discussion. "Praise and admiration" are the best weapons to keep negative thoughts at bay. Empathize. Realize that your partners anger might be an effort to get your attention. Adopt a receptive body posture and an open facial expression. Limit yourself to a specific complaint rather than a multitude of criticisms. Try these approaches:
"Remove the blame from your comments."
"Say how you feel."
"Don't criticize your partners personality."
"Don't insult, mock or use sarcasm."
"Be direct."
"Don't mind-read."

3. "Validation": Validate your partners emotions by looking at the situation from his or her viewpoint. Often, simply empathising is enough. Back you partner - take their side. You don't have to agree or solve their problem, just validate the feeling. Validation foils criticism, contempt and defensiveness, areas that you should keep out of your relationship. Take responsibility for your words and actions, take a deep breath and listen, and experience the intimacy that ensues. Try it this week and notice the change.

4. "Keep practicing what you have learnt": Once you have learned the techniques of fighting fair, practice them over and over until they become second nature. Your objective is to be able to use these techniques during the heat of a battle instead of resorting to your old, ineffective ways.

Having an argument does not mean that your relationship is in trouble. Disagreements and differences are an inevitable part of life and what matters is how we discuss and solve disagreements.

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