Most of the conflict in relationships is, and always will be, unresolvable. In fact, John and Julia Gottman (who have been researching this stuff for over 40 years) have found that “69 percent of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems.” Perpetual problems are caused by fundamental differences we have. And, they aren’t likely to change.
So, if you find yourself getting into fights over the same issues over and over again, you’re not alone. The good news is there’s a way to manage this conflict in a much healthier way for your relationship.
To better manage perpetual conflict, it’s important to recognize when your partner is offering you a “repair bid.” Repair bids look like this: You are in a fight with your partner going around and around with no end in sight. Seemingly out of the blue, he or she says something like, “Hey check out that bird, I’ve never seen one like that before, have you?”
What’s your reaction? Is it something like, “We're having a fight, and you want to talk about birds? Are we even in the same conversation?"
Chances are your partner is in the same conversation, and what he or she has just offered you is a “repair bid.” And, if you think about it, you’ve likely offered repair bids yourself when you’ve sensed there is no end in sight to an argument. Remember, 69 percent of the time there actually is no end in sight. In fact, there never will be!
Repair bids are an attempt by one partner to come back into connection with the other. Repair bids are our natural, many times subconscious, way to deal with the fact that over two-thirds of relationship conflict is perpetual. Who wants to stay on that hamster wheel?
Now, here’s the kicker. Rejecting your partner’s repair bid is most often more damaging to your relationship than your original conflict. Think about it. When you dig in and refuse to get off the hamster wheel of your perpetual conflict, you are saying, “No way, I prefer to stay in conflict over an issue that has and will never have a solution.”
We ask you, how has that choice been working for your relationship?
Of course, relationship conflict is complex. Sure, there are times when a partner may just be trying to bail out of an important conversation because he or she is uncomfortable with the topic.
So, how do you know the difference?
The next time you are fighting with your partner, ask yourself if it feels like you’ve been here a thousand times before. If the answer is yes, chances are you are locking horns around a perpetual problem grounded in differences the two of you have that aren’t likely to change. If your partner offers you a repair bid, try accepting it. Or, maybe try offering one of your own.
You’ve got nothing to lose. Your perpetual conflict isn’t going to change. You can, however, choose to change the way you manage it.
Howard Stanten (email@example.com) and Erin Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) are certified professional coaches specializing in developing leadership qualities and skills that enhance personal and organizational relationships.