How to communicate with your partner during a conflict

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In a romantic relationship, it is common to have conflicts with the partner. The conflicts can be caused by unmet expectations, intimacy, time spent together, financial difficulties, family responsibilities, jealousy and bad habits.

Managing and resolving conflicts are hard, and they themselves can become a source of stress. In fact, many couples are unsure how to effectively communicate to resolve disagreements.

In a paper recently published in Current Opinion in Psychology, researchers discussed the best communication ways in different types of conflict.

Researchers suggest that communication styles can be classified into 4 types according to whether it is opposition versus cooperation and whether it is direct versus indirect.

A direct opposition includes criticizing, blaming, expressing anger, demanding change, and being dominant. On the other hand, an indirect opposition often attempts to induce guilt and sympathy, expresses feelings of hurt and sadness, and shows dependence.

A direct cooperation usually uses reasoning and negotiation, offers solutions and alternatives, and weighs pros and cons. On the contrary, an indirect cooperation often softens the conflict, expresses love, uses humor, minimize the problem, and focuses on positive aspects of partner or relationship.

Researchers found that the 4 types of communication styles fitted different conflict situations.

Criticizing and demanding change are related to better problem solving when the conflict is serious. However, when the problem is not serious, such communication can harm the relationship.

Expressing feelings of hurt and sadness is useful when the feeling of guilt in partners can reduce relationship insecurity, but it is not effective if partners avoid dependence and resist change.

Overall, reasoning and negotiation are associated with greater improvement in problems across time in all conflicts.

Expressing love and softening the conflict are beneficial if they can help defensive partners calm down and be open. Nevertheless, they are harmful when the problem is serious, because the tactful approach may imply that changes are not necessary.

In addition, personality factors such as insecurity and attachment type can influence communication.

Researchers suggest that when dealing with a conflict with our partner, we should think about whether the problem is serious and the partner’s personality. By choosing an appropriate communication style, we can build a healthier and happier relationship.


Citation: Overall NC, McNulty JK. (2017). What type of communication during conflict is beneficial for intimate relationships? Current Opinion in Psychology, 13:1-5. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.03.002
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