There Is More Than One Way to “Fight Fair.” (Three to Be Exact)
The Gottmans’ research shows that there is more than one right way to manage conflict. They observed research participants discussing things they disagreed about and the results were groundbreaking. Although therapists have been teaching active listening for decades, we now know that you can have a wonderfully happy and stable relationship in many different ways. In fact, there are three functional conflict management styles, including:
• Conflict Avoiders: Prefer to focus on similarities instead of differences and tend to avoid high levels of emotional intensity.
• Volatile Couples: Don’t shy away from differences, and instead discuss them with a lot of emotion, laughter, and honesty.
• Validating Couples: Show high levels of empathy, and value seeing both sides of an issue. Their emotional intensity is midway between avoidance and volatility.
You might think that one of these three approaches is the best way to manage conflict, but the research showed that all three styles were equally effective. This is crucial to remember, especially if you and your partner have different preferences and values in how you feel about conflict. There will be times when one of you wants to talk and the other doesn’t. There may also be times when you are tempted to train your partner in the benefits of your preferred conflict style. This rarely works, and often leads to yet another problem: conflict conflict (ie arguing about what it the “right” way to argue).
Take the quiz below to find out your preferred conflict style.
Note: This quiz is not a diagnostic tool and is for entertainment purposes only, not to take the place of assessment by a licensed professional.
There are also two dangerous conflict styles to avoid because the research showed that these two styles led to disconnection and sometimes separation. Try to avoid Hostile and Hostile-Detached conflict management styles, which display contempt, and high levels of negativity.