The 3 Key Non-Conflict Ingredients for Constructive Conflict

THE 3 KEY NON-CONFLICT INGREDIENTS FOR CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT

Kyle Benson

My partner took me out to celebrate my birthday over dinner and surprised me with axe throwing.

As my partner hit the bulls-eye and smiled at me, I thought to myself how she was, without a doubt, my best friend.

I’m sure you’re aware of the cliche, “Marry your best friend.”

Just like other cliches, there’s a reason it’s around.

Hint: because it’s TRUE.

There are three parts of a strong friendship based on longitudinal research of emotionally connected couples:1

One: Up To Date Love Maps

A love map is when a partner asks open-ended questions to get to know their partner better, creating a map of their partner’s inner world.

During dating, partners do this frequently. They ask questions about work, family, and each other’s likes and dislikes. Successful couples continue to ask these seemingly “basic” questions throughout life, especially around life transitions such as a new job, moving, having a kid, etc.

These love maps help us see what makes our partner unique, and in turn, feel seen by our partners.

For example, before surprising me with axe throwing, my partner began teasing me that she bought us tickets to a concert knowing fully well that I do not find concerts pleasurable.

I felt very unseen in that moment . I started thinking, If she actually bought us concert tickets, then she doesn’t really know me. I feared that she had a bad love map of my inner world.

But when she surprised me with axe throwing, something I do enjoy, I felt known. I remember thinking, What a great surprise and a fun way for us to spend time together.

When couples do not continue to update their intimate knowledge throughout time, it’s easy to feel emotionally distant and for each partner’s satisfaction to decline over time.

So go update your love map of your partner by asking an open-ended question. For ideas, click here.

Two: Frequent Expressions of Affection, Appreciation, and Admiration

When observing 3,000 couples interact during an “events of the day” conversation and a conflict conversation, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues noticed that emotionally connected couples had a habit of looking for what their partner does right and pointing it out.

Even as simple as, “I really appreciate you cooking dinner tonight. It was delicious!”

Couples with high levels of admiration speak positively about their partners to others. These emotionally connected couples are also verbally and physically affectionate with each other.

Couples who struggle with this area of the relationship tend to have a habit of noticing and pointing out the negatives in their partner’s behavior or character. Oftentimes, this leads to escalating conflict or avoidance of one another.

Have you developed the habit of being affectionate, appreciative, and admiring in your relationship? This is often one area that all the couples I work with benefit from by adding it back into their relationship.

Three: Respond to Bids For Connection by Turning Towards Your Partner

Every day, partners make hundreds of bids for connection. Even unhappy couples. These bids can be as indirect and as small as a sigh or as big and direct as “I need a hug right now.”

Whenever a bid is expressed, partners have the choice to connect with their partner’s bid.

Attachment theory indicates that how available, responsive, and engaged partners are, influence how secure the attachment bond between partners is.

At its basic level, when we make bids for connection we are asking the question “A.R.E. you there for me?”

When that answer is yes, we relax and focus on other things or being playful.

When that answer is no, we struggle. We wonder if we can trust our partner. Insecurity seeps in.

Ironically, after watching 900 clips of couples having conflict conversations, Drs. John and Julie Gottman came to the conclusion that most often couples fight about “nothing.”

Often it is less about the topic and more about “Can I trust you to be there for me?” “Will you seek to understand me?” “Can I count on you?” “Will you work with me to build a better relationship?”

Trust is built moment to moment when we connect with our partners. We know they can count on us and we can count on them.

These three ingredients mix together like concrete and are the foundation by which a relationship succeeds or breaks apart.

Couples who continue to build these three aspects of friendship within their relationship have been proven in observational studies to have a better time navigating conflict. After all, if you are close friends, it’s easier to feel like intimate allies in life and come together when things are difficult.

These traits of friendship provide partners with the ability to see their relationship for all of the great things it is – their shared humor, their affection, and the presence of positive aspects necessary to have healthy and constructive conflict.

This in turn enables them to transform their problems into material for constructing a stronger relationship, brick by brick.

Not only do these aspects assist with conflict, but they’re also shown to be the basis on which romance, passion, and good sex happen.

Getting to continuously know your partner, expressing all of the things you admire and appreciate, and consistently responding to their bids for attention strengthen the foundation of your romantic relationship.

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