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Part of my new year’s resolution was to develop a healthier routine but if I were to rate myself on keeping that promise, I swear you’d want to unsee the results. I still grab my phone, first thing in the morning to check up on what I could’ve missed overnight and already make use of pieces of information at my disposal, to map out the content I think I will need, that will influence the rest of my day.

In my battle to remain disciplined, the social media algorithm managed to track me down, suggesting the YouTube series, Blue Therapy which I later realised to have sparked huge interest and social media exchange about the art of confronting and diffusing conflict in relationships.

The one couple that got a lot of retweets, on Blue Therapy’s therapist Denise’s couch, was Chioma and Paul. The couple’s conflict exchanges and issues with the clashes they encounter when trying to address their relational issues raise a much-needed conversation about conflict resolution in relationships.

What’s your fighting style in your relationship? As you wind down this weekend, take a minute to introspect and gather some lessons from relationship expert, Makabelo Motaung on today’s #RelationshipFriday.

According to the relationship expert, everybody has a unique way of expressing their emotions, anger and disappointments. “We all handle it differently depending on the issue at hand and the impact it has on us. The question couples need to answer is what the intention of addressing the conflict could be. Is it to resolve, to correct or to be heard? When you know this then you will know how to approach the issue at hand. The lack thereof of both parties knowing the intention of the fight, can end up doing more damage than good, to a point of being abusive or insulting”, says Motaung. 

“I’m often left wondering how I’m the one who ends up apologising” – Thato Modisha, in a five-year relationship.

Thato Modisha admits that she struggles to get conflicts resolved in her relationship. “I’m generally a straight talker, and when I’m unhappy about something, I address it almost immediately. I’ve noticed that my partner doesn’t not respond well to this approach because he ends up flipping it on me and I end up being the problem. Then I am left wondering how I’m the one who ends up apologising.

“There’s a thin line between healthy and unhealthy fighting in any relationship. What often damages a relationship is when an individual in that relationship doesn’t feel safe enough to express openly what they feel without fear of being attacked, labelled or misunderstood. What also tends to break up couples in a fight is the loss of respect for each other. That line can be crossed very easily”, says Motaung. 

I generally bottle up issues, so during the early stages of my marriage, I would write a letter to my husband to outline the problems in detail” – Mpho Zimu, married for 12 years.

“The biggest issue my husband and I had to combat when we first started out in our relationship was the lack of communication. We would often bottle things up and the more we didn’t talk about our issues, the more conflict would arise. I personally struggle facing confrontation, so when we first started opening up, I would write a letter clearly outlining my issues and then we would discuss the content in the letter. Over time, we learnt to intentionally open up a safe space for communication. Now we taIk about anything and everything” 

Motaung highlights that we all grew up in different environments and have had different influences, so it’s very important to understand how your partner communicates and with this comes taking the time to study and understand their personality in order to determine what their fighting style is. “Do they take time before they respond? Do they walk away because they don’t want to end up saying hurtful things or do they deal with issues right there and then? So, you need to figure out if you can understand, respect and live with that”, she adds.

My partner and I have rules of engagement which is to always keep it kind. We literally say, we fight like people who still want to love each other afterwards” – Noluthando Mtonti, recently engaged after a 9-year relationship.

“During heated moments, we resolve to keeping quiet and coming back to address the disagreement when we are much calmer. We try to hold each other’s spaces of weakness and honesty. We are aware that the disagreement may be a result of something else, like just merely projecting or being triggered. We discuss issues with empathy, knowing that the issue could be much deeper.”

Conflict mediator, facilitator and project manager, Dorothy Walker, during a Charlotte North Carolina Ted Talk, highlights three simple steps to unsticking conflict, moving forward using positive energy and coming away with a peaceful resolution:

Step 1: Prepare. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to jump right into a conflict when emotions are high. Whenever possible, the best bet is to set a future date and time where the emotions and energy can settle, and deflate, giving you the opportunity to get ready and the conflict to start shifting positive energy.

Step 2: Diffuse and move forward; observe, listen and ask questions. Asking mutual questions will make you stop and think. This pause will allow negative energy to start diffusing and this will give you time to shift negative energies and allow for positive energy.

Step 3: Make an agreement. The energy in a room is constantly moving and changing. Once the energy is neutral, that’s the time to get consensus. There’s resolution to all conflicts. It just takes the willingness to try. Your positive energy that comes from compassion, empathy and sincere intentions sets an emotion. Use this positive energy to resolve the conflict.

I believe we come from different backgrounds and circumstances. In a relationship, we are bound to have disagreements, especially on acts and values we don’t have a common ground on. It’s important for one to take time to know the difference between a different view and a conflicting position. I’ve come to learn that disagreeing with my partner is healthier for growth than it is for a basis to fight. 

So, I’m willing to work through those disagreements when they come.