The First Fight

The first fight you have as a couple can be formidable. Chances are it wasn’t pretty; you might have said things that neither of you meant, and you may have stopped speaking for a short time. If you came through the first fight still together – I want to congratulate you because now you are over the first scary hump in your relationship.

Conflict in your relationship, believe it or not, is a good thing. Many couples may try to put off the first fight or fighting in general because it’s not pleasant. The truth is, conflict is unavoidable, and if you see yourself with this person for an extended period you must be prepared to address it and manage it effectively.

Self- Awareness and Managing Conflict

The first step to addressing conflict is knowing how you and your mate approach it. We tend to mimic our parents or the environment in which we were raised. I refer to this as our “default setting.” Take a moment and think about your house growing up – how was conflict addressed? Did your family yell? Did they act passive-aggressively? Did they avoid?

Default settings are pre-set, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be adjusted. It would be worth your while to have a conversation with your significant other and find out how conflicts were handled in their family. Not only would it assist you in gaining a better understanding of him and his family situation, but it would provide insight into how together you can approach conflict successfully. Another way to become more self-aware of your quarreling style is to take a free conflict style assessment from IREM. Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann found there to be five styles of conflict : avoiding, compromising, collaborating, accommodating, and competing. We each have a style to addressing conflict, and each style has its strengths and weaknesses. Also, asking your significant other to take the same assessment could provide awareness of their particular approach. Knowing how each of you addresses conflict is another way to learn how to together you can resolve conflict in your relationship.

What is the source of the conflict?

There is always an underlying cause to the dispute you are having. It is important to know what that is to know how best to manage it. Ask yourself the follow questions:

• Is the quarrel over a lack of communication? Or was there communication but a lack of clarification? Did one of you make assumptions?
• Is you or significant other’s feelings, values, or beliefs being challenged?
• Are there expectations that are not being met?
• Is there a past conflict that was not addressed that is bringing up past resentments?

Miscommunication is a typical cause of relationship conflict. Many times when people communicate we say things in our everyday language, but sometimes things can be lost in translation. For example, my definition of “I’ll be there in a little bit” may be 15 to 20 minutes, whereas, my husband Bernard’s definition of a “little bit” may be 30 minutes. To make sure everyone is on the same page, you must clarify and ask questions to further your understanding. The same is necessary for managing assumptions and expectations.

It is crucial to remember that people hold tightly to their feelings, values, and beliefs. When you call them into question, you will likely receive defensive responses, and therefore, it is crucial to be mindful of the words we use and our tone when speaking to the other person’s feelings, values, and beliefs. If the conflict is occurring because it is touching on a past dispute that was never adequately addressed resolving it now is essential because as you get further away from the initial point of contention, it is harder to find closure.

Apologizing, Forgiving and Moving Forward

The most crucial point is moving forward after a dispute. If you are unable to move on after a conflict, then you cannot expect your relationship to last. Holding on to past resentments will keep your relationship from progressing. When you find yourself in conflict, it is important to recognize when you have made a mistake and to apologize.

Apologizing can go a long way in dispute. If you don’t believe you are truly at fault, you likely at some point during the conflict said or did something you didn’t mean – apologize genuinely, it will help your partner be more receptive and perhaps even more willing to concede to their mistakes. Even more important than apologizing is forgiving. Ask yourself, what needs must be met to forgive and move on? Will an apology suffice? Does something else need to occur? Many times, your significant other just wants to know they’ve been heard and acknowledged. Once forgiveness has happened, let it go and start fresh.

Conflicts in a relationship can be challenging, however, having them will help you get to know your partner better and will contribute to making your relationship stronger.