Conflict is hard. It brings up painful feelings, some present some from our past, and can cause us to engage in behaviors that we aren’t always proud of. Whether you become avoidant, assertive, aggressive or passive aggressive in the face of conflict, the reality is if you are in a relationship conflict is inevitable and it is important to learn to deal with it in as healthy a way as possible.
One area that individuals often struggle is finding a way to voice their complaints in a way that is conducive to relationship growth. Everyone has moments of unhappiness and frustration in their relationship as a result of their partner. Learning to be connected to someone who at times has different approaches/views/sleep habits/lifestyle habits/opinions etc. is hard sometimes. The problem isn’t in your feelings but rather how you communicate your feelings.
What is the difference between constructive feedback and criticism? For one, criticizing someone only serves to create a greater divide in the relationship and leaves to defensive and distant connection. It is never helpful, nor okay, to criticize your partner for any reason. Instead what you want to engage in is constructive feedback. Constructive feedback is about letting your partner know you are unhappy and getting clear on what can be different in the moment (or the next time the situation arises) that your partner can actually change.The key is highlighting things that can actually be done differently so that your partnercan do something about itto make the problem better.
For example, if you are feeling angry because you and your partner have different ideas around cleanliness, simply calling them lazy or a slob doesn’t change your frustration and will make him/her feel attacked and defensive and therefore less likely to help. Instead if you were to focus on how you would appreciate their help for 10 minutes every night to tidy up, it gives them an action item that is tangible. It helps if you let them know why. For example saying “I feel really overwhelmed when the house is messy and it makes it harder for me to feel connected to you and not feel resentful. I understand that this isn’t something that feels significant to you but can we please spend a bit of time each night tidying up so that I can feel more relaxed and we can feel closer?” That is a fair request and something we should act on out of respect for our partner and their feelings. People want to feel like they are a part of a team, which is really only possible when each person is given a fair and tangible example of what they can do to support their partner and their relationship.
Having a conversation around what triggers you about your partner is healthy if it is done in a supportive and healthy way. Constructive feedback where your partner can actually do something to change what is bothering you will move your relationship forward. The next time you find yourself overwhelmed, remember that criticizing will likely only get your partner defensive and will leave your need unmet. Instead, ask them to do something specific that will help alleviate your frustration and move you guys closer together.