Do you turn toward each other or away from each other during conflict?
Turning away means not only physically turning away but also closing yourself off mentally and emotionally to the other during conflict. Many of us just disappear into the background, refusing to engage, taking the dead fish approach. Some of us, though, turn away by demanding resolution, respect, and peace without willing to listen and be open. Either way the problem never gets resolved.
Turning toward the person you are in conflict with is quite different. You are putting yourself in a posture to work together through the problem. When we do this we are giving the other person what we want–understanding. With both seeking understanding, egos and entitlements take a back seat. We may not and usually won’t come to a perfect agreement, but we can come to a workable solution when we turn toward each other.
The research (see John Gottman’s work) is very clear on this. Couples who turn away from each other during conflict are likely to unhappy and fail, while couples who turn toward each other are much happier and likely to succeed.
Notice the “turning toward” couple is not smiling because working through conflict is not always easy or fun, although it eventually can become easier and more fun.
Our marriage is a testimony to this. When conflict becomes something to work through together rather than something to fume over apart, we grow. However, in our lesser moments when we see conflict as an “I’m right, you’re wrong” proposition, we regress and fume with the best of them (see evidence here).