One of the most important skills I help couples build is the ability to tolerate tension between partners. The impulse to hurry up and find a solution is undeniable. Being in tension with a disagreement or two different points of view is extremely anxiety-producing and, for some, excruciating. If only there were a simple solution or a quick resolution, the pain would end, right? But when couples rush to a resolution, they often make mistakes that end up damaging their relationship in the long term.
For instance, one person may give way, and decide to “just let go of it” or “agree” in order to get their partner off their back. This stops the conflict in the moment, but it’s a recipe for building resentment over time, as well as for broken promises down the line.
Any big difference of opinion will take time to resolve. Your clients are likely to want a quick fix, but allowing things to move too fast will end up either entrenching both partners in their positions, fanning the flames of conflict, or forcing one partner to give way.
Instead, try these strategies:
- Normalize the disagreement. Every long term couple has substantial differences, and there is nothing that makes that an emergency, in and of itself.
- Remind them that a solid functional resolution is the goal, not a fake agreement or glossing over something important.
- See if you can help them get curious about why their partner might see things they way they do. This is an exciting stage of relationship. This is how partners learn about their differences.
- Support the curiosity, and guide the conversation deeper, holding space for tension, not resolution. This will create an atmosphere of creative thought and empathy rather than anxiety and hasty attempts to soothe.
- Breathe. This can be challenging for therapists, who also would feel better if there were a simple resolution. Be gentle with yourself and go slow.
By taking time to consider the issue from multiple perspectives, rather than rushing to an imperfect solution, your clients will learn more about each other and themselves, and build the skills they need to handle the next conflict that comes up. Guiding your clients along this process is the key to nurturing their relationship’s long-term growth, rather than simply rehashing the fight of the week.