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Conflict Intimacy

How can conflict and intimacy be linked together?  Believe it or not, conflict resolution can result in greater trust, connection, and intimacy.  Several studies find that couples who effectively work through conflict have greater overall relationship satisfaction.  Gottman found in a study from 1999 in the Family Process that he could predict divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion.  Researchers from UC Berkeley found that couples who use “we-ness” language are better able to resolve conflicts than those who don’t.  The study published in the journal Psychology and Aging also found that older couples identified more with “we” than their middle-aged counterparts and reported a greater sense of shared identity according to professor Robert Levenson.

Another interesting study published in Psychological Science led by Jessica E. Salvatore at the University of Minnesota found that our ability to resolve conflict is based on how securely we were attached to our caregivers as infants.  The researchers concluded that the participants who were strongly attached as babies were more adept at resolving conflicts in their adult relationships.  She also found that people who didn’t experience that attachment early in life can recover from their inability to resolve conflict with the help of a more skilled spouse.

Conflict is unavoidable and requires some skills for successful resolution.  Many of the couples I work with have difficulties getting through the first step of identifying the conflict and agreeing on the problem.  Once that has been accomplished, it is very helpful to acknowledge the emotional impact of the conflict and validate each others feelings before discussing logical solutions.  Brainstorming, negotiating, and compromising can move more smoothly after the emotion has been expressed and accepted.  The final step towards resolution requires both parties to select a mutually agreed upon solution, implement this option, and let go of the conflict.  Remember stick to the conflict at hand, communicate respectfully, and avoid defensiveness, justification, and blame.  Conflict occurs in all relationships.  How you handle it determines its effect.

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