Contrary to popular belief, having disagreements is inevitable and even healthy in relationships. After all, a couple that agrees on everything is a couple that, therefore, mustn't challenge one another. Conflict suggests interdependency and change and, as such, growth.
But there's a difference between couples that argue in a toxic way and couples that argue in a constructive way — and the latter, of course, is preferable.
Here are nine habits of who can communicate consciously in conflict, according to psychology.
A study from Brigham Young University suggests that couples who argue and apologize over text aren't nearly as happy in their relationships as those that communicate in person. In fact, a wealth of research also supports that in-person communication is key, as physical touch can build trust and nonverbal communication that can only be exchanged in person also helps partners to empathize with and mirror one another's feelings.
According to a growing body of research, "meditation is an important form of self-control and a healthy practice, [as] it augments focus and attention and could be used to enhance empathy and all attentional capacities." Of course, being able to control your emotions and stay present and attentive during a difficult conversation with a partner — through meditation practice — will help the conversation move in a more constructive direction.
Partners who think before they speak have an easier time articulating their feelings and expressing their concerns. Rather than blurting out their thoughts in a jumbled and overwhelming way, they're able to clearly explain why they're feeling the way they are, and how those feelings are impacting their overall wellbeing. Of course, this kind of effective communication helps the other partner to understand and empathize.
They say "i" instead of "you." In other words, instead of saying "You make me feel inadequate in this relationship," they say, "I feel inadequate in this relationship," and they take ownership and accountability for their own feelings. When they present their feelings in this way, instead of placing blame, it's easier for their partners to see their concerns because they're not blinded by defensiveness.
Active listening refers to mindfully, attentively hearing and truly attempting to comprehend the meaning of the words spoken by their partner. Instead of just listening to what they say and taking it at face value, active listening means paying closer, they practice active listening by paying closer, deeper attention to the root of their partner's concerns so that they can address them more directly. This also helps their partner to feel heard and understood, which, of course, helps the conversation go smoother.
A ton of research suggests that mirroring other's body language helps to establish rapport. Mirroring refers to the social phenomenon in which a partner mimics the other's posture, gestures and words. Of course, mirroring their partner's words helps their partner to feel heard. But by mirror their partner's body language, they can actually get a better sense of how their partner is really feeling. That's because psychological research tells us that adopting another person's body language helps us to understand their experience from their perspective.
Partners who have constructive conversations are able to reflect on toxic patterns — they can recognize and admit to the repeated issues in their relationship. This recognition helps them to trace and tackle why these issues keep coming up and, ideally, correct these toxic patterns.
Rather than dwelling on their past, couples who have healthy dialogue surrounding any conflict will look to their future. Instead of asking each other, "Why did you do this?" they'll ask each other, "What can we do so that this doesn't happen again in our future together?" After all, they know that the cost of rumination is a painful one. Research suggests that when you're constantly over-thinking the past — in your own head seeking answers — you're not actually pursuing goals, nothing is happening and you're, ultimately, stuck.
Holding grudges get nobody anywhere. While many couples may find themselves bringing up past issues in current arguments, mature couples will stick to the present. If they've forgiven incidents in the past, they won't bring those incidents up again; what's in the past is in the past. Besides, they understand that the emotional toll of holding a grudge can actually manifest physically — and that only exacerbates their situation.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.