Doing Life Together


How many times have you heard a couple say they need to work on resolving conflict? Well, it may surprise you to know that conflict resolution is not the solution to happy marriages.

My parents were married 67 years when my mom died. They grappled with the same conflict issues for most of those years. According to researcher John Gottman, this is normal in stable couples.  Gottman found that 69% of couple conflict is perpetual. This means that while having conflict is normal, the bulk of it remains unresolved.

However, well functioning relationships develop a specific kind of dialogue around these problems. Even though conflict is on-going, successful couples discuss conflict without escalating to negative patterns like blame, defensiveness, cut off, etc. They use humor, affection and some irritability, but the conversation does not escalate to a negative place.

Thus, the secret to dealing with conflict is not to avoid or necessarily resolve it. The secret is to keep from escalating that conflict to a negative place. Successful couples choose relationships with a set of perpetual problems that they learn to live with them, being respectful and positive as the dialogue over those problems unfolds. Staying positive is the key.

So the next time you find yourself in a conflict with your partner, examine your dialogue around that conflict. Are you critical, feeling contempt, being defensive or even putting up a wall? If so, the relationship is going the wrong direction. But if you keep your affection, use humor and stay positive, the relationship is going to do well.


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