The avoidance of relationship problems leads to much deeper problems, says Chuck Sugar. Here, Sugar answers questions about how to effectively handle conflict and opens up about his own experience with the subject matter.
Q: What types of couples need to seek conflict-resolution counseling?
Chuck Sugar: I believe that all couples can benefit from learning how to better deal with conflict. I enjoy speaking to young couples about this topic during our premarital sessions. Many don’t believe they even need to learn how to handle a disagreement since they’ve often never really had one, but I have found that time changes that. Couples who learn early on to respond to one another effectively tend to report happier relationships in the long run.
Q: Why do our arguments always seem to end with hurt feelings?
Chuck Sugar: A minor disagreement should never turn into a full-blown argument in the first place. But they often do. Mostly, people – especially when dealing with heated emotions – want to prove they are right. This often comes at the expense of listening to the other person’s point. It’s very easy to say hurtful things if you don’t understand how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. Taking a break is essential for most couples to calm down, realize why their hurt or anger is so elevated, and coming back with a much calmer, safer, and respectful way to discuss the argument.
Q: How should a couple learn to react to problems?
Chuck Sugar: The first thing I tell myself is to, “shut up and listen.” Listening and making the time to process what you have heard before continuing a discussion is huge! Some people (like me and most men I know) are slow, internal processors. That means we need time to really understand what is going on inside us in response to an issue. Usually internal processors will either shut down or counter-attack quickly to protect themselves, but this is where the harm begins. Not taking the time to process means we have no idea how this issue is really affecting us deep inside. We’re probably being triggered to a hurt from the past, but unless we take the time to process, we don’t know that. Slowing down arguments enough to understand what’s really happening gives our relationship a chance to have a successful conflict that leads to a peaceful resolution.
Q: Is it best to avoid conflict altogether?
Chuck Sugar: No, definitely not! I have seen people in relationships that didn’t want to hash things out. It doesn’t end well. We have to learn that avoiding the issue isn’t going to make it go away. For one, the person who does the avoiding can begin to feel the heavy weight of stuffing and keeping things inside. That can lead to anxiety and resentment. Oftentimes, the partner on the other end has no idea his or her spouse is suppressing their feelings. If you don’t speak up, nothing will ever change for the better. I love helping couples change their unhealthy way of dealing with conflicts and learn a more effective way to stay connected and work through issues with their partner.