How do we manage conflict where one spouse is a talker and the other processes internally? Often when this situation exists in a relationship, a dynamic can result where one spouse becomes a pursuer and the other becomes and distancer or withdrawer. This can present all kinds of problems when conflict arises that would really benefit from conversation and working things through together.
There are many strategies and models out there for handling these style differences. I would recommend that regardless of the strategy used, a helpful guiding principle would be to create space that is safe for both people to show up and feel validation exactly how they are. Rather than trying to extract what you need from your partner, perhaps look at your own style and discern how that might be creating difficulty for your spouse to show up and be accepted. Notice how you might be unintentionally putting up road blocks in an effort to protect yourself or how you might be trying to control your pain or fear. See if you can see what is good about your spouse’s style and lean into developing more of their good conflict traits.
For the spouse who is comfortable bringing up issues and doesn't mind conflict, I would recommend a few things:
1) When you have something you want to discuss, let your spouse know that you have something on your mind and get their buy-in for a good time to chat. If it’s not now, schedule another time and stick to it.
2) It may be helpful for your introverted spouse to know what the issue is ahead of time so they can have time to process it in their mind before discussing it.
3) Notice when you are dominating the conversation. Get really curious about how it is affecting your spouse and what they are thinking. Ask questions. Communicate clearly and lovingly what you need from them.
4) Be mindful of your reactions to them showing up. Is it safe for them to express themselves? Are they met with judgment or more argument?
5) Validate what they are saying. That can be as simple as restating what you hear them say. Tell them you understand where they are coming from if you do. Tell them what they are saying makes sense.
6) Tap into empathy and presence in your discussions with them.
For the spouse who is less comfortable with conflict:
1) If you are in the middle of a discussion and it becomes overwhelming or you need some time to process, communicate that kindly and clearly. Schedule a time to continue the conversation when you have had time to center your emotions and process your thoughts. Stick to that time.
2) Recognize that for connection to be present in your relationship, it is important to be willing to be seen by your spouse. It is also important for your spouse to hear from you. What do you fear if you let yourself be seen? Is there something you need from your spouse to feel safe? Notice that and take small risks, communicating to your spouse when it doesn’t go well for you.
3) Notice your avoidance style.
-Do you go out of your way to head off conflict by
anticipating your spouse’s needs? If so, practice staying present to yourself and what you need. Get clear on what that is for you.
-Do you pretend that the conflict doesn’t exist? Or hope that if you wait long enough, it will blow over? If so, tap into compassion for your spouse. Ask questions about how they are feeling. Get clear on your own needs and practice voicing them.
4) Validate what your spouse is saying. That can be as simple as restating what you hear them say. Tell them you understand where they are coming from if you do. Tell them what they are saying makes sense.
5) Remember that what your spouse primarily needs from you is for you to listen and validate them. Once this is accomplished, the level of intensity in the conflict will be greatly reduced.
What is your experience with this? How have you dealt with differences in communication or conflict styles?
Jana Spangler, IAC is a life coach who specializes in supporting and mentoring others who are experiencing pain in their spiritual life and relationships. She is currently attending the prestigious Living School through the Center for Action and Contemplation of Richard Rohr.