Being in a military marriage, I have had to learn to handle all aspects of long distance relationships. One of the most important things to learn in love at a distance is how to handle disagreements effectively. By ‘effectively’ I mean in a way that allows both people to communicate their grievances and frustrations while also finding common ground to resolve the conflict.
I have come to realize how very important it is for me to be able to say what is bothering me. It is also important to me that my husband acknowledges my feelings. In turn, I realize that it may be just as important for my husband to be able to tell me if there is something that he does not agree with or that displeases him. Communicating our feelings to each other is the first step in resolving a disagreement.
When There Are Only Words
In long distance relationships, exchanges may occur only through verbal or written communications. This may be particularly hard during a disagreement because couples do not have the luxury of communicating an angry or emotional disposition through facial expressions and body language, leaving only words. Words without the context of physical expressions leave a lot open for interpretation by the other person.
For example, when a couple is together and the man says something that is upsetting to the woman, she may give him a look of anger, turn her back and walk away. Without words, she has communicated that she is not pleased. In such a case, he has the opportunity to express his sorrow by putting his arm around her or kissing her softly. Conversely, he may express his anger by leaving the room and slamming the door. This exchange of emotion might all occur without the utterance of any words.
Couples in long distance relationships may not have this luxury. I do realize that, through video media enabled via the Internet, a couple may actually have the ability to see each other in real time. Such media would make it much easier to exchange not only words, but also emotional gestures in facial expressions and body language.
But, what if such technology is not available? Many times in military relationships, spouses or loved ones are deployed to remote areas without the network capability to accommodate video media. For these couples, there may be very few options for expressing non-verbal expressions of displeasure aside from angrily hanging up the phone or uncomfortable silences on the line. For these distant lovers, an emotional exchange might only occur through words.
If There Are Only Words, Be Sure to Use Constraint
In a long distance relationship, words should be savored. They should be used deliberately and mindfully. In an argument, however, they may be used pointedly, harshly, angrily, hurtfully or impulsively, steering you far away from handling the disagreement effectively.
Using constraint means taking a lot of the emotion out of the words. It is certainly appropriate to express feelings of sadness and anger in response to words or other actions that have caused such emotions. But, exercising constraint, so as not to express overly emotional impulsive responses is important for resolving the conflict.
Think about it. When are you most likely to empathize with someone else’s feelings? When are you most willing to listen to their side of the story? It is probably not when that other person is yelling, screaming or saying very hurtful things to you. In the same way, your lover will be most willing to work with you toward resolving a conflict when you are able to communicate your feelings calmly and clearly.
Think About What You Want to Say Before Saying It
It is often helpful to take some time, once you have removed yourself from an emotionally charged situation, to think about what has triggered such a reaction in you and how you would like to respond. After taking time to reflect on your feelings, you should be able to tone down the emotion when you communicate your conflict. But, doing so, however, does not mean denying that the emotion has emerged.
If you are angry, communicate that you are angry. If you are sad, communicate that as well. It is not what you say, but how you say it. Communicate directly by stating, “I was angry when you. . .” or “when you said that to me, I was sad.” If you think about exactly what caused your reaction and which emotion was elicited, you will be able to state this clearly and calmly to your lover during your next communication.
It might be helpful to communicate through a writing, such as an email or letter. In a writing, you will have the benefit of being able to ‘rehearse’ your communication. And, if you are not pleased with what you have stated, you can erase it and write it again. Be careful to use constraint in your writing as well. An angry writing will backfire as it does not give the person reading the opportunity to respond in a timely manner, which can leave that person feeling hostile toward you without the opportunity to defend his- or herself.
Even if you don’t want to send an email or letter, it is still very effective to write down your feelings when reflecting on the thing or things that have upset you. Writing down your feelings helps you to organize your thoughts. You might even have your ‘first response’ via this writing, allowing you to include all of the angry emotion and all of the hurtful words that you would have thrown at your lover had you not been using constraint.
Allow Your Partner to Respond – Listen
Once you have communicated your feelings, allow your partner the opportunity to respond in an unemotional way. This allows both of you to get to the bottom of your disagreement and resolve the conflict, reach common ground, or agree to disagree. It is likely that the response to your mindful words will be one with equal constraint. This kind of communication avoids the sort of emotionally charged statements that can inflict great harm in your relationship. Hopefully, through discussing your problem in an unemotional manner, you and your lover can understand each other and resolve the disagreement.
Have you ever been in a long distance relationship? How would you handle disagreements?
WEDDED BLISS WEDNESDAYS discusses marital and relationship issues. Although this is likely to be biased toward my own experiences in marriage and with relationships, I hope that you will join the discussion, ask questions, and suggest topics that you are interested in discussing. If you like what you see here, please use the orange icon at the top right to receive my content updates by email or RSS reader.