As you know, relationships take a lot of work. And at times, they’re downright HARD.
According to a UCLA study on commitment in marriage (which followed 174 married partners for their first eleven years of marriage), couples who actually lasted did three important things during conflict:
- During the conflict, they compromised
- They were able to make sacrifices when engaged in conflict
- They continued to view themselves as a team
And it seems this approach really does work because another study also discovered that couples with a democratic approach — where both seek to compromise and talk to each other with sensitivity toward the other’s feelings — were much more likely to succeed in their relationships.
The takeaway — disagreements are inevitable in our closest relationships, but they do not have to lead to a conflict.
In fact, authors of the study indicated that, in the relationships that ended,the couples were not determined to do the hard work involved in resolving their conflict. They were unable to move out of their corner and could not shift their thinking from one of them winning and their partner losing.
Meanwhile, the successful couples focused on keeping their relationship strong.
The reality is: We hurt each other in our close relationships. Sometimes we do it on purpose. However, often we have no idea what just happened, but we know our spouse is upset.
So, what should you do if you realize you’ve hurt your significant other and now they’re upset with you?
Here are seven steps to help you shift from conflict back to connection:
1. Find out what’s really going on
A good first step is to find out as much as you can about what just happened. If you know what hurt your partner, give them a chance to talk about it. Or, if you don’t know why, ask them to share their feelings and give them a chance to talk about it.
This is not the time to defend yourself; it is a time to listen. Your partner would not be upset without a good reason, and now is the time to find out what that real reason is. Even if it was an unintentional hurt, they’re still wounded and you need to know more about it.
2. Give her some space, if needed
Depending on the level of upset and how your love handles hurt feeling, they might need a while before they’re willing to talk to you about it.
So back off and grant them time and space to think.
3. Talk the issue through and clarify anything you’re uncertain of
Once they share their feelings about the matter, ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand.
Before going any further, make sure you’ve allowed your partner to fully express how they feel and to tell the whole story.
4. Find out if there is more to the story?
If there is more to the story that they don’t know, ask if they’re willing to hear what you know that they may not. BUT, be very cautious here that you’re not:
- Trying to protect yourself or cover up what you’ve done
- Attempting to minimize your partner’s pain
- Blaming them for being upset
- Stirring the pot and doing it to them all over again
- Being defensive
5. Begin repairing the damage
As soon as you can, sincerely apologize for what you’ve said or done (even if you did not intend to hurt them).
Let them know that you get it — they feel hurt and you’re sorry. Acknowledge that you understand why they’re upset, or why they feel the way they do and that you want to do everything you can to fix and repair the damage done.
6. Ask if there is something your partner needs from you
Make it clear that you want to fix things, so if there is something they need from you to help make things right, you’re willing to do it.
7. Talk about future steps
Once you know that your partner understands that you “get it” and has accepted your apology, it’s time to talk about the future. If you learned something or figured out something new that you think might help in a future situation, bring it up and see if they agree.
Maybe you have some ideas that might help the two of you handle a similar situation in a more productive manner. If so, share your idea and ask for their input. If you have ideas about how your partner could play a role to avoid a situation like this in the future, talk about your ideas. But be careful not to shift the blame to them!
Couples who are successful in their relationships learn how to problem solve, to accept responsibility for their actions, and to forgive each other.
Depending on how severe the offense is, it may take some time to repair the rift completely.
Exercise patience while waiting for your partner to fully forgive and let go of a hurt. This is a time to treat your love the way you’d want them to treat you when they hurt you.
It takes effort and plenty of hard work to repair the damage we inflict (however accidentally) without making things worse. But when we do it right, the making up process is quite rewarding and fun!
Dr. David McFadden is a couples counselor at Village Counseling Center. Receive your free copy of the Better life magazine filled with articles covering topics about taking good care of yourself, resolving conflicts in your relationship, and discovering how to have success in your life.
This article was originally published on YourTango.com.
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