How many times have we fought in our intimate relationships with our partners? Definitely
more than a few times. Conflict in itself is not unhealthy, as it allows us to look at the areas
of the relationship that needs the most attention. A conflict about your partner not helping in
housework highlights the feeling of being left out and alone in life’s mundane struggles. Yes,
there are umpteen reasons that couples fight or are in disagreement. But these conflicts act
like a muslin cloth through which pass the impurities that affect the relationship.
All relationships, including the successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately,
it’s not the presence of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or
failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship
conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth
and understanding. Also, there are problems that you can’t solve due to natural personality
differences between you and your partner.
Criticism – We criticize our partners when they fail to live up to our expectations. But
criticism is different than a complaint. The latter is about specific issues, whereas the former
is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their
whole being when you criticize. For example,
This is a complaint: “You reached almost an hour late for our lunch.”
This is a criticism: “Punctuality is an issue with you. You are never on time. You never think
of me, you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish.
The problem with criticism is that it makes the receiver feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and
often causes the critic and receiver to fall into a vicious pattern where criticism reappears
with greater frequency and intensity, which eventually leads to contempt.
The antidote to Criticism – Gentle Start-Up
A complaint focuses on a specific incident, but criticism attacks a person’s very character.
The antidote for criticism is to focus on the complaint without blame. Avoid saying “you,”
which can indicate blame. Instead, talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express
what you need positively.
Rephrasing the above complaint in this manner – You can say – I was eager to meet you
today at lunch since of late we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together. I was very
disappointed when I did not see you on time.
Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner’s character,
contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them. When we contempt someone,
we are truly mean—we treat them with disrespect, call them names, and mock them with
sarcasm. The target of contempt is to make your partner feel worthless.
The Antidote To Contempt – Is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your
relationship. Remember this tip – Small Things Matter. If you regularly express appreciation,
gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you will create a positive atmosphere in
your relationship, which will act as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel,
the less likely you are to express contempt!
We become defensive when we feel accused. We fish for accusations ourselves and play
the innocent victim to get our partner to back off. Unfortunately, these excuses never work.
Our excuses just communicate to our partners that we do not take their concerns seriously
and we are unwilling to take responsibility for our mistakes.
· Question: Why did you turn the pressure cooker on when I was on such an important work
call? The whistles disturbed the entire call.
· Defensive response: Why didn't you take the call outside, then? I need to finish my
chores in time.
Antidote To Defensiveness: Take Responsibility
Defensiveness is an act of self-protection in the form of innocent victimhood to keep off a
perceived attack. Most people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the
problem is that being defensive never solves the problems at hand. Defensiveness is an
indirect way of blaming your partner. Thus the problem is never resolved, and the conflict
escalates further. The antidote is to accept the responsibility for what is specific to the
Stonewalling occurs when the person withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and stops
responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who
stonewall engage in avoiding maneuvers such as turning away, acting busy, stopping
talking, or showing distracting behaviors like scrolling phone while you talk to them or
spending too much time sleeping. Stonewalling is like a flight or fight response and puts
couples under a lot of emotional pressure.
The antidote to Stonewalling – Practice Physiological Self-Soothing
If you feel like withdrawing or shutting off in a conflict, take a break. Allow your body to
physiologically calm down by doing an activity of interest such as taking a walk in the park,
cooking your favorite dish, or listening to your favorite music. Inform your partner that you
need some time for yourself and then return to the discussion rationally and respectfully.