This article originally appeared here on December 5, 2012
Author’s Note: This post is an excerpt of the book (click on title): “Seven Keys to Long-Term Relationship Success.”
It’s normal for a couple to quarrel from time to time—just part of what it means to be together. Conflicts and arguments won’t necessarily jeopardize a relationship. In fact, there are times when disagreements can actually bring a couple closer together. The key is in how you and your partner decide to handle the conflict.
Couples with poor conflict resolution skills typically engage in Fight, Flight, or Freeze behaviors. They fight and stay mad, sometimes holding grudges for years. They flee and avoid important issues by sweeping them under the rug. Or, after endless arguments with no resolution in sight, they freeze emotionally and shut down. Someone who freezes in a relationship typically goes through the motions on the outside, but has stopped caring on the inside.
Successful couples have the ability to solve problems and let it go. They focus on taking care of the issue rather than attacking the person. Even when angry, they find ways to be upset and stay close at the same time. Once the matter is resolved, they forgive and forget. Most importantly, successful couples have the ability to learn and grow through their interpersonal difficulties. Like fine wine, their relationship improves with age and gets better over time.
I was sitting at a coffee shop once when I witnessed a brilliant example of an elderly couple’s conflict resolution. They were sitting next to me when the husband accidently knocked a cup of water over the table and onto his wife. As he got up to get some napkins, his wife announced to everyone: “He’s been doing this to me for twenty-three years!” And as the husband gently cleaned off the spill on his wife, he turned to us and said: “She deserves it!” His wife laughed. He laughed. We all laughed.
“The group with whom I’ve always been most fascinated is the one I call ‘marital masters’—folks who are so good at handling conflict that they make marital squabbles look like fun. It’s not that these couples don’t get mad and disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”
— John Gottman
“Let the little things go. People who struggle often fight over little things. We obsess over things that don’t really matter. We create resistance instead of letting things glide off us. Let the little things go, breathe, and move on to the important things.”
— Leo Babauta
“…and at the end, so much of it turns out not to matter.”
— from “Evening”
For more tips on relationship success, see my books (click on titles):