Conflict-Resolution Tips for Couples During Quarantine
Due to our current conditions, many of us are spending significantly more time inside of our homes, which for many of us means spending significantly more time with our partners. Statistically speaking, the more time we spend with any individual (even our beloved significant others), the greater the chances become of some form of conflict arising.
In a fundamentally healthy relationship, increased minor conflict during this incredibly difficult time is completely normal and offers a unique opportunity for growth and even a deeper connection with one’s partner. However, as with any form of growth, there are “growing pains” and difficulties that arise during the process; these may occur in the form of more frequent arguments, resentment, more frequent annoyance, desire for distance from one’s partner, etc.
Below are some conflict-resolution tips that may assist you and/or your partner:
1. Clearly communicate your needs to your partner. Humans are not mind readers. Make sure you are communicating clearly to your partner what you are needing in the given moment. Failing to communicate one’s needs often leads to unhealthy emotional states and/or negative behavioral patterns toward one’s partner. An example of this is “snapping” at your partner when they sit next to you on the couch because you did not voice your need for a few minutes of space and “down time” after a work day.
2. Ask your partner for clarification. This feeds off of the previous tip. If you are unclear about what your partner is expressing to you, it is completely appropriate to ask for clarification in a respectful manner. For example: “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘I need some down time; please tell me what that looks like for you.’”
3. Do not expect yourself out of your partner. Your partner has their own unique biological makeup, thoughts, feelings, values, and life experiences shaping the individual they are today, as do you. Therefore, when we expect our partner to react identically to us or to share the exact same opinions as we do, we are immediately setting ourselves up for feelings of resentment. Many individuals are unaware they hold this expectation of their partner, so reflecting upon and clarifying your expectations to yourself may be helpful in minimizing this mindset if it is present. If you feel your partner is holding this expectation of you, it is again completely appropriate to communicate this concern and/or ask for clarification.
4. Take a break if negative emotions are high. While most disagreements begin as the result of negative emotions (e.g., stress, frustration, fear, etc.), it is counterproductive to attempt to resolve a disagreement if one or both partners is in an excessively negative emotional state. “Confrontation” is an extremely common fear and often produces defensiveness, feelings of physical tension, excessive crying, “freezing” or “shutting down” (due to the fight-or-flight response being activated), etc. It is therefore in the best interest to “take a break” until both partners are in as calm of an emotional state as possible to work toward a resolution. The communication techniques described in prior tips may be helpful in communicating the need for a “break” to your partner, or in appropriately receiving this need from your partner.
5. Establish work-related boundaries. Many of us are currently working from home and our professional and personal lives are therefore increasingly entangled. While there is a huge element of convenience in working from home, there is also significantly increased difficulty in creating a healthy and necessary separation of “work life” and “personal life.” Communicate your “work life” needs to your partner and work together to establish boundaries in order to minimize carrying work-related stress into your “personal life” or lengthening your work day. An example is a discussion in which a “blocked off” period of uninterrupted work time within one’s home office is established and agreed upon.
6. Establish or maintain relationships and interests separate from your partner. During the beginning stages of a relationship, couples often wish to “do everything together.” While this behavior is healthy in attachment-formation early in relationships, it becomes unhealthy if it is prolonged, especially among cohabitating partners. It is critical that each partner has friendships, family relationships, hobbies/interests, and/or regular activities separate from their partner. Examples include (safely!) having dinner with a friend while your partner covers the household responsibilities for the evening, independently participating in a special-interest class or activity, or simply independently taking a neighborhood stroll at lunch (again, safely!).
If you are finding these times particularly difficult, or if you find yourself struggling with any of the topics or techniques discussed in this article, it may be helpful to seek the services of a mental health professional.
-Sierra Shapiro, MS, LPC
Sierra Shapiro is a staff therapist at Marsh Psychology Group. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-860-2024.