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Spotlight: Managing differences in relationships

Posted: Thursday, Feb 14th, 2013

This week’s spotlight is dedicated to anyone in any kind of relationship. I hope you all find a healthy way to manage your differences.

Differences are inevitable in every relationship. The question isn’t so much, what are the differences, but how are they dealt with. Every couple fights. The key to lasting relationships is learning how to fight fair.

Conflicts happen, disagreements are a part of life, and difficulties are something we just get accustomed to. We all know it’s not always easy to get along with others, even if it’s someone we care about and who cares about us.

In fact, Liz Hale, Ph.D., with the Utah Commission on Marriage said that every marriage has at least ten irreconcilable differences. Hale says, “According to some impressive marital research, it’s not resolving our differences that make the difference it’s how we manage them that determines marital success! Learning how to manage differences respectfully is part of making a good marriage even better.”

The University of Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center offers the following advice for talking with someone when you feel upset:

• remind yourself that you are experiencing the body’s normal way of dealing with what is initially perceived as threatening and stressful;

• take several nice, slow breaths, breathing in through the nose and out slowly from the mouth;

• try to stand or sit in a relaxed posture;

• if you feel you are becoming very sad or angry, tell your partner. Perhaps a time-out is in order until you collect yourself;

• respect each other by keeping a reasonable distance and avoiding physical touch that may be interpreted as condescending or prematurely intimate;

• try to avoid raising your voice as this may be interpreted as intimidating or elicit similar defensive behavior on the part of the other person;

• remember the person with whom you are talking is someone who cares about you and vice versa.

Doctor John Gottman, of the University of Washington said the two things couples fight about the most is money and children, but there’s no surprise there. He also lists the following examples of some irreconcilable differences:

• Balance Between Home and Work

• Communication Patterns

• Personal Habits and Idiosyncrasies

• Sharing Household Responsibilities

• Outside friendships

• Debt difficulties

• Disciplining Children

Gottman claims that the most important part of a conversation/argument is the first three minutes. “We can either become grid-locked within our perpetual issues, or our dialogues can contain relationship-building laughter, softness, and affection. Set the stage for a discussion by bringing up issues softly, gently, and calmly. Avoid negative accusatory remarks, sarcasm, critical and contemptuous statements. It’s fine to complain but don’t blame. Speak for yourself. Say, “I felt hurt when you left me alone at the party;” and not, “You are such a selfish jerk!” Be private, appreciative, and polite. If you’re the listening party, listen with your heart and your head,” said Gottman.

Anger and anxiety are two of the most destructive forces in a relationship, so learning how to deal with and express those emotions can dramatically change a relationship. Proper communication is at the heart of any successful relationship. Expectations need to be discussed, explored, and either kept or discarded.

Tori Vigil is an author, inspirational speaker, and reporter. She can be reached at torivigil@yahoo.com.

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