It may come as a surprise to some, but conflict is essential to healthy relationships. Without having conflict, we miss out on vital opportunities to learn about each other and renew our relationship.
But conflict does not have to mean nasty fights, disrespectful treatment of your partner or frosty or no communication for days or even weeks. Conflict can be productive and even transformative to your relationship.
Here is #1 Rule of Effective Communication during Conflict that will help you prevent unpleasant escalations and instead have a productive conversation with your partner: AVOID FINGER-POINTING WHEN YOU BRING UP AN ISSUE YOU WANT TO DISCUSS.
Phrases that contain "You" + negative statements feel criticising and evoke defensiveness.
What does it look like in practice? Most couples for not knowing better start their arguments with somethings like "You never listen to me" or "Why are the dishes not done yet?". Worse even, with emotions running high, you might hear "You are just so selfish!" or "You can never get anything right".
While saying something like that may feel justified to you in the moment, think for a second how it might feel to hear that? For most of us, I doubt this would feel good and make you want to listen. To the opposite, you are likely to fight back and respond with something like "That's just not true!" or "No, it's you who never listens!". So basically you get defensive, feeling attacked and treated unfairly.
So what do I do instead? Instead of "finger-pointing", start with "I" and talk about what you feel and what you need. Avoid "You" at all cost, unless it's a positive statement, such as "You are a good father". Also avoid generalising words such as "always" or "never" as they amplify the negativity and in many cases make your statements untrue as well: Even if your partner is acting selfishly, most likely they don't do this "always", all the time, right?
Generalising words such as "always" or "never" amplify the negativity and in many cases make your statements untrue.
So, here is a specific example how to move away from criticising finger-pointing to a more productive start of your conversation:
"Why do you never do the dishes?"
"I feel quite annoyed that the dishes are yet again not done.
Could you please help me with them, so that we can spend more time together in the evening?"
Try this relatively simple communication technique and see how your partner responds. Most likely, much more positively and helpfully than you might expect.