Writing Out Your Conflicts


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It’s not uncommon to write love letters to our partners. Well, it’s not uncommon at the beginning of a relationship anyway. Conflict letters are much rarer, but probably equally useful in the long run. Like love letters, they can be scary to write because they require a lot of vulnerability, which can really cause hurt if the other person reacts badly. Ultimately, though, vulnerability is necessary for relationships, so I think it is worth pushing through and trying out the conflict letter.


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So what is a conflict letter? A conflict letter is one where you write to your partner describing an issue you are facing as a couple, giving your thoughts and feelings about the issue. You can also include possible solutions you come up with, although you’ll want to state them in a way that makes it clear that they are only possible solutions, not the final word. As we’ve discussed in past posts, ultimatums are rarely useful for relationships, except when you are dealing with a serious violation of your boundaries, like cheating, drug use, etc. Conflict letters are very useful because they give you a chance to articulate your thoughts calmly and clearly and give your partner a chance to think through the issue and their feelings about it before discussing it with you.

Tips for Conflict Letters

Write When You are Calm

Conflict letters often get a bad rap because people write them while they are angry. Writing a conflict letter while you are angry only leads to a permanent record of your harshest reactions to the situation. Any time your partner wants to, they can look back and see all the terrible, thoughtless, irrational things you said because you were angry. Obviously, that’s not a good thing. So wait until you are feeling calm and reasonable, and if you find yourself losing that cool while you write, take a break until you get back into a better emotional state.


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Discuss Both Sides Fairly

It helps to acknowledge any attempts your partner has made to help with the situation, as well as affirm your belief that your partner ultimately wants what is best for both of you. (If you don’t have that belief, I would strongly recommend relationship counseling, because that is a serious issue.)  Showing that you understand your partner’s point of view on the issue also helps. By approaching your issue in a way that reflects a positive, understanding view of your partner, you lessen the temptation for your partner to feel attacked and focus on defending themselves instead of addressing the issue.

Stay Focused on Solutions

Your goal is to resolve the issue, not to attack your partner or rehash the past. Bring up the past only to the degree that it is necessary to resolve the problem, and avoid using words that label or judge your partner as a person. If your partner has negative behaviors that need to be addressed in the letter, focus on specific events and stick to the facts and your feelings about the events instead of slipping into judgments about your partner’s character or motivations.


Let It Rest

If the issue is particularly contentious, or if you are unsure whether you explained yourself calmly and kindly enough, set aside the letter and come back to it in a few hours or even a day or two and read it again. Look for anything that has an angry or aggressive tone, or is likely to come across as an attack. For issues where you are unable to be calm while you write, it may help to have the letter read by a trusted friend who has the best interest of both you and your partner at heart so they can point out areas that may cause problems. Rewrite any problem sections. Remember, your goal is to move forward in a positive direction.

Deliver Wisely

Deliver your letter at a time when your partner is not tired, angry, or stressed, and let him know that he can read it whenever is best for him, and you’ll be happy to discuss it with him whenever he is ready.

Wait for a Response

https://i2.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/21/20581/for-the-friendship-of-two-the-patience-of-one-is-required-quote-1.jpgIt can be tempting to push your partner for an immediate response, but one of the points of the letter is to give your partner time to process your perspective and his own reactions. Patience may be easier if you mentally set a time in the future to ask about the letter, like telling yourself that if your partner hasn’t brought it up again within three days you will bring it up yourself.

Writing out conflicts takes time, patience, and bravery, but it can deepen your discussions and help you get through issues more calmly instead of wasting time and creating stress by arguing about the issues. It’s a positive for the situation you write about, plus it builds vulnerability and communication between you and your partner. As with so many difficult things, this one is definitely worth the effort.

Living My Life on High Alert


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This week we are talking about not treating minor issues like emergencies, and although doing this seems simple enough in theory, I struggle with it in my everyday life. I want to give my attention only to the problems that are truly problems, but I find myself freaking out about issues on a regular basis, only to look back later and recognize that the issue really wasn’t that serious.


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I think part of the reason I struggle with this is that my past makes me very insistent on having a healthy relationship, and very fearful that even the smallest of struggles could be the tipping point that sends my relationship into a negative spiral. Having grown up in a family where there was a lot of stress between my parents, I came into my relationship with a determination never to let my relationship get into that state. Now that we have a daughter, my mind is even more vigilant about scanning for signs of problems because I know that if our relationship develops major issues, it will affect her too.


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Although I know that my struggles in this area come in part from my childhood, I also believe firmly that I am in charge of my own reactions and choices. Everyone has their own family background, and every parent screws up their child in some way. I know that my daughter will have her own struggles that come from my choices, even as I fight to do my best. However, I want her to see from my example that your childhood may give you the raw materials you have to work with as you go into adulthood, but that you choose where you go from there.

So I will continue to push myself to react in healthier ways, to think carefully before I react with fear and dramatics. Ultimately, that is what is best for me and for my daughter. And, ironically, that is also what is best for my relationship, because bringing stress and fear into my relationship in an attempt to prevent relationship problems makes no sense at all.

Stop Crying Wolf


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Although you’ve probably heard the story of the boy who cried wolf, you probably don’t consider yourself someone who cries wolf. After all, that’s someone who acts like there is a major problem when there really isn’t over and over again, and expects everyone around them to pay attention to the supposed problem. Oh, wait, is that sounding familiar?

We all cry wolf sometimes. We look at a small problem, and instead of recognizing it as the small problem it is, we treat it like a major emergency. We obsess over it in private, dissect it in conversations with friends and family, and initiate long conversations with our partners about the horrors of this problem and its potential long term effects on our relationship.

Obviously, treating little things like emergencies makes life difficult for our partners. Being around you, someone who is stressed and anxious, increases your partner’s stress and anxiety. Also, they have to spend their time and energy talking through the problem with you, finding solutions, and helping your regain perspective. Over time, that becomes exhausting!


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/30/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_Poster.svg/300px-Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_Poster.svg.pngAs the story of the boy who cried wolf teaches us, constantly treating small things in your relationship like emergencies is not just frustrating and stress-inducing for your partner; it also makes it less likely that your partner (or anyone else) will take you seriously when you point out a real emergency. They will have already used up the time and energy they have available for attending to your assertions that there is a major problem, and you will have less support in your emergency than you otherwise would have.

No one can stay calm all the time. Everyone freaks out sometimes about problems that aren’t really a big deal. That’s okay. The boy who cried wolf didn’t have problems because he said once that there was a wolf when there wasn’t, but because he did it over and over. Just keep an eye out for the tendency in yourself to exaggerate small problems, and try to avoid it as often as possible. Save your emergency alert level for things that are really emergencies.

Trying to Make My Husband React


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My husband is not an enthusiastic person. If he absolutely loves a meal he has at a restaurant, he’ll say, “That was pretty good.” If he has always wanted something and receives it as a gift, he will smile quietly and say, “Thanks!” I, on the other hand, sometimes squeal, laugh, jump up and down, or exclaim joyfully when I like something or something good happens.

When we first married, I would often look to my husband for an enthusiastic response. And each time he didn’t respond enthusiastically, I would be vaguely annoyed and saddened. Why didn’t he show the highs of emotions when I thought it was appropriate?

Over the years, I have learned that his lack of enthusiasm isn’t anything personal against me. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t enjoy life or the things I do for him. It just means that he is a low key person. Like we have discussed in the past, the things we dislike about our partners often come with things we like. In this case, his lack of enthusiasm is connected with his steadiness and calmness. Because he is less extreme in his emotional reactions, he is able to be the steady rock who keeps our relationship stable and helps me to feel safe.


So now, instead of being upset when he act predictably by being less enthused about something that I am, I try to remember that this is not unexpected and that it’s a fair trade off for something that is more important to me in the long run.

By the way, I did see him get truly enthusiastic once. When I told him that I was pregnant, his eyes welled up with happy tears and he gave me a long, long hug. Although my reaction had been a bit different (I jumped up and down yelling, “Yes! Yes!”), I thought his reaction was beautiful because it was fully his own. Ultimately, that’s what I want: for him to express himself in a way that expresses who he is, because I married him for who he is, not for the image I have in my mind for who he should be.

Predict the Predictable


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Let’s talk for a second about babies. Hang with me here for a minute – this will tie back to relationships. I promise! One of the first things people generally ask when they meet my daughter is, “Is she sleeping through the night yet?” Every time, my answer is the same, “Nope. Not yet!” As tiring as it is to get up with her every night, most of the time I don’t think about it too much. Not only is it normal for a baby her age to wake up during the night, especially a breastfed baby, but it is completely predictable. It happens every night. It would be completely unhelpful for me to get upset every time I get woken up, since I know it is going to happen. Yet how many of us get upset with our partners when they do things that are completely predictable?


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Every person has their own ways of doing things and reacting to situations. That means that many of our actions and reactions are predictable. If you’ve ever found yourself getting upset with your partner going into a situation before they behave a certain way because you know in advance that they are going to behave that way, you know what I’m talking about.


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When you know that your partner will act in specific ways in a given situation, it makes no sense to get upset when they do. That’s not to say you can’t do anything about it. You can choose to modify the situation so it elicits a different reaction, talk with them about their reaction if it is something that creates a serious problem for you or if you think they are unaware of their behavior, or simply accept it as part of who they are and let it go. Just try to avoid going through your relationship being surprised and angered every time they react in the way you know they are going to react, because that won’t do you any good, and it certainly won’t help your relationship.

Simplifying My Husband


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I’d like to say that I’m a pretty considerate communicator. I’m sure I occasionally tell my husband that he never does a certain thing or that he always does something else, but I would say it is pretty rare. Using these terms in my own mind, however, is much more common. I say things to my husband in my mind that I would never say out loud, and in a way I think that is almost as harmful.

We talked on Tuesday about the dangers of using absolute terms when talking with your partner: always, never, etc. And it’s certainly true that using these words when talking with your partner brings nothing but bad things to your relationship. As I looked this week at how I use absolute terms, though, I realized that absolute terms can be just as hurtful when I use them inside of my own mind. I’m very careful about what I say to my husband when I’m frustrated with him. I know that words can be powerful, and that you can’t take them back once they are said. Still, I’m not always as good at controlling the words that go through my own mind.


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Using absolutes in my mind when I think about my husband has some really negative effects. For one thing, it gives me a dramatic and exaggerated view of my husband’s faults. I start to imagine his faults as massive and pervasive, when really he is an excellent husband. My view also becomes more simplistic when I think in this way, and I find myself actually believing that my husband is just some jerk out to make my life miserable and avoid putting in any work on himself or our relationship.

As tempting as these simplistic notions are, they don’t represent real life. My husband is a caring, thoughtful man who does everything he can to make our relationship and our life together as good as possible. He also has faults, just like everyone else does, some of which he knows about and is working on, and some that are in his blind spot.

Now when I find myself thinking in simplistic, absolute terms about my husband, I try to question them. For example, if I catch myself thinking, “He NEVER does the dishes!” I ask myself, “Never?” Usually I can think pretty quickly of examples that counteract the simplistic viewpoint I’ve taken in anger. It’s hard sometimes because it’s just so much easier when I’m angry to view him as a thoughtless jerk and myself as an innocent victim than to look at the reality of the situation, which is much more complex.


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I’m nowhere near perfect at catching myself yet. I still villainize my husband in my mind when I’m angry. The beautiful thing about marriage, though, is that I have as long as I need to fully develop this skill. For now, I’m going to keep working toward staying in a more realistic perspective when I get angry, apologize when I slip up and my perspective causes my husband pain, and get right back to trying to do better.


The Easiest Way to Start a Fight


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If you are really spoiling for a fight with your partner, there is a method that works almost every time: tell your partner that they “always” do something, that they “never” do something, or that they “are” something. Using negatives in an absolute way creates a level of defensiveness and frustration that even the calmest partner is unlikely to be able to resist.

If, on the other hand, you want to have a peaceful relationship, a good place to start is with an understanding of the damage that absolute statements can cause. Obviously, one of the reasons absolute statements are so hurtful is that they are inaccurate. They make the other person feel attacked, and rightfully so. There is really no reason to use absolute statements except to hurt your partner, as there are much gentler and more effective ways to make a point.

There are two less obvious dangers of absolute statements, however. First off, absolute statements make it less likely that your partner will try to correct the behavior that you are complaining about. If he has been trying to be more affectionate, and you say, “You are never affectionate toward me!” the message you send is that you are not going to give him credit for any attempts he makes to change. That would certainly encourage most people to stop trying.


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The other less obvious danger is that absolute statements can quickly derail a useful conversation into a discussion of whether your absolute statement is accurate. Your partner will bring up examples of his efforts that go against your statement, and you will likely belittle his efforts in an attempt to prove that your statement was justified. Not only is that an argument that is completely unwinnable by either side, it is also a completely useless argument. Nowhere that argument goes will be nearly as useful as a discussion that stays focused on the real issue at hand instead of shooting off towards a discussion of semantics.

So if you want to have productive discussions instead of fights, try to keep the conversation focused on specific examples instead of using absolute statements. Describe your frustrations as accurately as possible, without the attack or exaggeration of absolute statements, and go from there. Without the distraction of absolute statements, you will get a lot further with a lot less effort.

Keeping Up with My Pet Peeves


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As I mentioned on Tuesday, I have been following the strategy of letting go of my top three pet peeves for a while now. I do think this is a fairly simple strategy, but as I’ve considered my experience with this strategy over the years, I’ve thought of three details about it that I should share with you.

First, I’ve noticed that there is a tendency for my pet peeves to make a comeback after a while. I’ll think I have released a pet peeve, but then months or years later I’ll be in a disagreement with my husband and suddenly a complaint about the pet peeve will burst out of my mouth. This makes me think that letting go of pet peeves is a constant process, not something you do once. If you stop letting go, they start coming back.

Second, pet peeves change. Now that we are parents, I have a whole new set of pet peeves about my husband, and I’m sure he has new ones for me as well. This is another reason why letting go of pet peeves is not a one time process. This process of identifying and letting go of your top three pet peeves needs to be done regularly, not just because they come back, but because new ones can appear.


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Third, it seems to me that stress causes magnification of pet peeves. It’s no coincidence that a pet peeve would resurface during an argument. Stressful times in life as particularly likely to make pet peeves appear or reappear and seem like a much bigger deal than they really are. As my husband and I continue in our first year with our baby girl, this one definitely comes into play. I find myself needing to reset my perspective much more often, since I’m under much more stress than normal. Finding ways to let go of stress and connect with your partner helps a lot with this.


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It may seem discouraging to think that this is a continual process, but I actually love that about this strategy. This is something that you can take with you and apply over and over, and every time you apply it, your relationship will benefit. If your goal is to have a peaceful relationship, this is surely a good place to start.

Let Go of Your Top Three Pet Peeves


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Of all of the strategies in “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love,” the book this blog is based on, this week’s strategy is perhaps my favorite. This strategy has been tremendously useful for me, and I remind myself of it when I find myself stressing about the little things. It’s a strategy that is as simple as it is useful: think of your top three pet peeves about your partner, then choose to let them go.

Pet peeves are “the small stuff” by definition. It stands to reason, then, that letting go of a few of your pet peeves will lead to less stressing about the small stuff and more peace in your relationship. Letting go of the top three ensures that you will get the most change for your choice. After you have chosen to let go of a pet peeve, you will still notice when your former pet peeve appears, but you will be able to recognize that it is a small thing that you have decided not to let bother you.

Today’s post is a short one, because this strategy really is that simple, and it can shift your mentality and your relationship greatly toward the positive. That’s my kind of strategy! It’s pretty easy, too, once you’ve made the decision to let go of the pet peeves, but if you want more detailed information on how to let go of the pet peeves (along with a list of 50 common relationship pet peeves), check out this earlier post: Letting Go of Pet Peeves.

Accepting My Husband’s Compliments


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Having grown up in a family that was uncomfortable with emotion, I find it difficult at times to accept compliments. Let’s be honest: I love compliments. I think most people do, really. It’s just that I get uncomfortable when I receive a compliment because I’m not always sure how to react. I don’t want to seem full of myself. My usual response, especially with my husband, is to respond with a joke or with sarcasm.


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As we discussed on Tuesday, rejecting a compliment hurts the person giving the compliment and reduces the likelihood of future compliments. I don’t want my husband to compliment me less, so I’m trying to accept compliments more graciously. There is no reason for me not to, really. It’s not like my husband is unaware of my strengths and weaknesses. He knows whether I am truly humble or not, so why do I feel a need to respond with false humility when he is only trying to be kind?

So starting now, I’m trying to respond to “I like this dinner, dear!” with “Thanks! Glad you like it!” instead of “Not as bad as yesterday, huh?” To respond to “That dress looks good on you!” with “Thanks! I dressed up just for you!” instead of “Yeah, I guess it’ll do.”

It sounds so easy, but I know I will struggle at times. The phrase, “Don’t get a big head!” is firmly embedded in my mind from childhood. Ultimately, though, as with all bad habits, this one will change only with consistent practice over time, so I’m starting now, and I know it will get easier over time.


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