Some conversations are more difficult than others. One of the easier conversations for couples to have is stress-reducing conversations. These are when couples talk to each other about issues outside of their relationship. Maybe it’s a work issue, a family issue, or a struggling kid. When partners listen—without unsolicited advice or problem-solving—it’s therapeutic. It’s comforting to be supported when distressed.
Conversations get more challenging when they are about the relationship. Couples may discuss issues, themes, or the relationship itself. The hope is for couples to become so skilled at discussing issues, that they prevent conflict in the first place.
But since conflict is inevitable in relationships, the most skilled couples can repair conflict as it’s occurring. Since it only takes one or two statements for couples to escalate, repairs need to be implemented quickly. Repairs are the most challenging skill for couples to learn.
Lastly, when a couple is unable to prevent or repair conflict, ideally the couple is able to process the issue. Processing is talking about the conflict in a way that allows the couple to understand how the conflict was created without blaming. In addition, successful processing allows each partner to learn what their role was, remembering that it takes two. Through this endeavor, a couple can heal from the conflict, preventing an accumulation of unresolved issues.
Hopefully, couples use their skills to prevent conflict. But when escalation happens, repairing conflict as it occurs or processing conflict afterward promotes successful relationships. With less conflict, a couple is more likely to support each other with stress-reducing conversations.