“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
When we think about relationship conflict, we generally associate it with negative outcomes, and while perpetual unresolved conflict can indeed destroy our relationships, we can also learn to heal, find peace, and cultivate a future together through overcoming relational conflict. When two partners are committed to identifying a challenge within their relationship, expressing their emotional experience openly, understanding the other’s perspective, claiming responsibility for their own emotions and behaviors, sitting with uncomfortable feelings, disputing their personally held irrational beliefs, and ultimately collaborating in repairing, rebuilding, and healing together, relationships can actually reach deeper levels of satisfaction, intimacy, and trust as a result of successfully working through conflict.
In couples counseling, as well as individual counseling, I encourage my clients to take note of their interactions with the people and situations in their lives that are linked to their conflicts to determine whether these personal observations reveal that these conflicts are outside of their control and essentially not about them, or if there is something that they are feeling, doing, or thinking which is contributing to the conflicts within their lives and their relationships. Regarding couples, it is often the case that both partners could be more effective in managing, reducing, and resolving conflict by examining the role they play in the creation of conflict.
Below I have highlighted 9 relationship commitments that I believe the healthiest and happiest couples make to one another. I think it is important to specify that these commitments, which emphasize prioritizing the relationship over each individual, as well as striving to understand your partner’s emotional experience, are only appropriate when applying it to healthy relationships. These guiding tips are not accurate or applicable for relationships that are toxic, manipulative, or abusive, as in these scenarios, it is crucial that the victims consistently put themselves first in order to stay protected from any threat of danger. With that said, for partners who are not involved in unhealthy relationships, but are seeking to more successfully and rationally address relational conflict, check out my 9 relationship commitments below to better understand how to increase your relationship satisfaction and happiness as a couple:
1. We trust that both of our emotional experiences are equally significant, and that even though we may not always agree with one another, we will commit to understanding each other’s perspective.
2. Our relationship will be a safe place to share things with one another that may be both difficult to speak about and listen to, because if something is important to one of us, it is important to both of us.
3. Problems are separate from our partnership. Our partner is never the problem. The problem is the problem, and we will seek out solutions together.
4. When we feel ourselves becoming emotionally activated (we start to experience unhealthy negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, depression, hurt, shame, guilt, or problematic jealousy and envy), we will pause for a moment and ask ourselves: what am I telling myself that is contributing to the way that I am feeling within this moment? Furthermore, are my emotions, as well as what I am about to say or do (my behavior, my actions, and my reactions) going to result in peace or suffering for myself, my partner, and our relationship? If suffering will most likely be the consequence, I will continue to challenge my thinking and dispute any self-defeating and relationship-sabotaging beliefs that I am holding onto.
5. Neither of us are mind readers: no matter how well we know one another or how emotionally intelligent each of us believe that we are, it is illogical to assume that either of us are able to know what the other is thinking or what their intentions are without actually asking them in a respectful manner.
6. Neither of us are fortune tellers : no matter how much we wish to control the future or predict the outcome of a specific circumstance, including our own relationship, we cannot know the future with absolute certainty, and demanding that we must or should be able to do this will not help us to control our future; rather, it will contribute to further relationship distress. Accepting uncertainty and surrendering our demands to predict future outcomes, as well as ceasing awfulizing and catastrophizing about the future will help us to improve communication in our relationship, minimize anger and jealousy, and alleviate anxiety and depression.
7. We will give one another the benefit of the doubt! We will always try not to assume the worst of each other, because by giving the other the benefit of the doubt, we will approach potential differences from a more compassionate, mindful, and rational place.
8. We will remember that each of us are responsible for our own emotional and behavioral reactions in life. Outside adversities, challenging circumstances, world events, other people, arguments, and our romantic partner do not directly result in our own unhealthy emotions and unhelpful behaviors. It is our personal beliefs about these things that predominantly impact how we feel and how we behave. We can truly transform our entire world, our intrinsic perspective, and our personal philosophy for living once we take responsibility for our own emotional and behavioral reactions, accept that which we cannot control (i.e. outside adversities, the world, and other people), and focus on changing that which we can control (our attitude and perspective).
9. We will have faith in each other as teammates in our relationship, as well as partners in life that when the going gets tough, and we face challenges, we will remember to prioritize our team, our unit, and our partnership instead of simply the individual.
As a REBT-based counselor, in addition to these 9 commitments, I encourage all of my clients (couples and individuals) to set goals for themselves and their relationships! Whether your goal is to achieve a promotion at your job, be less fearful in your personal life, promote better communication and more strategically address conflict in your relationship, try to cultivate daily goals for yourself, (which can differ from day-to-day or remain consistent, until you have achieved them), and keep your goals at the forefront of your mind, so that they will penetrate your cognitive, emotive, and behavioral patterns 24/7.
In other words, when you catch yourself spiraling into a negative or irrational thought pattern, stop yourself and ask: how is thinking this way helping me to achieve my goal (of earning a promotion)? When you catch yourself feeling destructive emotions such as anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, or unhealthy levels of jealousy, envy, and anger, ask yourself: how is this helping me to achieve my goal (of being less fearful in my personal life)? When you catch yourself behaving in a maladaptive or unhealthy manner, ask yourself: how is this helping me to achieve my goal (of establishing better communication and more strategically addressing conflict within my relationship)?
Establishing healthy goals and following these 9 core commitments for relationships is half the battle; practicing them (i.e. putting them into effect and rehearsing them until they become habit) is the other!
Don’t just talk the REBT talk! Walk the REBT walk!
To learn more about the REBT philosophy for living better, read my article on: 5 Rational Self-Help Strategies for Improving Your Mental Health & Wellness!