Vexations and Conundrums
By Katina Pontikes
Can We Just Talk?
I feel like my brain power diminished during the pandemic. Words come to me slower and writing something by hand seems to result in more mistakes than before isolation. Communicating with my husband is more challenging, as we have spent two years joined at the hip because of Covid. You can imagine that a Zoom seminar caught my interest when the subject was “Healthy Communication for Healthy Relationships.”
The presenter was Dr. Kara Winkler, an associate professor in Communication Studies at the University of Houston. I eagerly attended by computer, making copious notes which I’d be able to share with my husband over an evening glass of wine. I learned several communication guidelines.
If you want to have a healthy relationship with a significant other one must practice “prosocial strategies.” There should be positivity, openness, and assurances. The two of you should do social networking and joint activities, and share tasks. (That one is loaded!) Humor should be used, and affection given often. The big capstone is that you should practice constructive conflict. I felt like a whole seminar could have been taught just on constructive conflict.
Here was a zinger: There should be five positive contacts to each problem contact.
We went to dinner with another couple. During the meal I mentioned the 5/1 rule. The couple looked at me blankly. The male said, “We don’t have conflicts.” I looked at the female partner. She heartily agreed. “Never!”
I thought about the conflicts I work to resolve with my husband. I made them confirm they never disagree. Then, as the night wore on, every time they disagreed, either my husband or I would exclaim, “Conflict!” We became annoying I am sure, but our point was made.
The next morning my friend texted me: “We had five conflicts on the way home.” This is a couple who interact in a positive, loving manner. The point is that when two people disagree about something, conflict occurs. Something like who takes out the garbage can result in conflict. How it is addressed is important to the relationship. It was charming that this couple’s conflicts were so small as to not register with either of them.
So how should conflict be resolved? Listening is key to good communication. We know it is easier to talk than to listen. Couples must collaborate and examine both points of view to seek a solution that satisfies both parties.
Four things can hurt a relationship:
Contempt. One party feeling superior to the other. In this case, something else may be going on, resentment exists, and questions may reveal the real issue.
Stonewalling. Communication is cut off, and the situation is toxic. Therapy is required.
Antisocial strategies that can harm a healthy relationship exist. For example, infidelity is an obvious problem. Allowing one party to control the other is also a bad practice. Individuals need their own friends and hobbies. Jealousy induction is not a positive practice. And forget spying, as that too is not productive.
You may be wondering what some typical conflict issues are. They vary by types of relationships, but I was interested in married couples. The issues were many: chores, money, possessiveness, sex, and children. It’s a wonder any of us can make it through such a jungle of risks.
Key to a strong relationship is the right set of skills. We must empathize more, practice more acts of kindness, value the relationship, and become other-centered. If I can do all of these, I’ll feel like a saint!
The seminar had an entire section on apologies to repair damaged relationships. I’ve made many mistakes over the years. In a real apology we must accept that we caused pain, acknowledge our role in the damage, and commit to change the harmful behavior. The advantage to these behaviors is that we learn and change interactions for better relations, which is a beautiful goal.
Longevity in a healthy relationship is a true gift, worth all the work.
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