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As a society, we
tend to seek help only when we are in distress or crisis, in relationships we
need to focus on how we can prevent these issues from arising. We often do this
because it is much easier for us to be reactive during a conflict than to take
preventive actions. For example, in the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, Cristina and
Burke would often get into conflicts due to the constant clash of their competitive
personalities. The constant distress and conflict ultimately resulted in Burke
leaving Cristina at the altar. However, their relationship had many positive
elements and could have continued if they had taken appropriate measures to
prevent and manage conflict. Successful relationships require both partners to
be able to engage in actions that prevent relationship distress and improve overall
relationship satisfaction. One of the main factors that contribute to
relationship distress and dissatisfaction is conflict (Scott, Rhoades, Stanley,
Allen, & Markman, 2013). Being able to manage and prevent conflict would
help prevent both distress and dissatisfaction. There is a lot of research in
the field of relationships and there are many different ways couples can
prevent conflict.  This article will
focus on three research articles that will help you prevent and manage conflict
in relationships. These preventive measures involve reducing conflict and
increasing relationship satisfaction through mindfulness, playfulness, and
letting go of unproductive conflicts.

            The first article by researchers at
Auburn University examines the associations between mindfulness and
relationships satisfaction through a literature review (McGill, Adler-Baeder,
& Rodriguez, 2016). Mindfulness, as defined by the article, is “an
individual practice, where one has a heightened awareness of the present moment”
(McGill et al., 2016). Mindfulness is typically brought on by using meditative
techniques by being aware of breath, practicing yoga, and engaging in focused
activities such as mindful eating and walking. The most well-known mindfulness
training program is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program
developed by John Kabat-Zinn in 1979 (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). MBSR improve the
ability to act skilfully (as opposed to reactively) in stressful situations
through the development of understanding thoughts and feelings in the present
moment (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Although mindfulness is practiced by an individual
it has relational components; it encourages connections, unity, and closeness
with a partner (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Research has shown that mindfulness can
actually have positive influences on social connection, perspective taking,
social skills, and prevents negative reactions during a conflict (McGill et
al., 2016). The Positive outcomes of mindfulness on physical and mental health
can act as a moderator of stress during a relational conflict (Grossman,
Nieman, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004). Overall, the research shows that there is
a significant association between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction;
individuals who are more mindful have higher levels of romantic relationship satisfaction.

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            In order to increase mindfulness in
relationships, couples should engage in dyadic mindfulness practices. Two of
the most common dyadic mindfulness practices are loving-kindness meditation and
aikido communication. Loving-kindness meditation focuses on generating feelings
of compassion, empathy, and gentleness towards others while maintaining
calmness and mental stability (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). One example of practicing
loving-kindness meditation involves repeating the following phrase in one’s
mind: “May all beings in the air, on land, and in the water be safe, happy, healthy,
and free from suffering” (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Aikido communication is another
form of relationship mindfulness practice. Aikido communication involves
partners letting go of natural habitual reaction reactions to conflict and uniting
with their partner’s mind (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). An individual can unite with
their partner’s mind by listening, working together, and coming up with a
mutual compromise. Aikido communication primarily addresses healthy ways of overcoming
conflict. In addition to dyadic mindful practices, each individual should also
engage in individual mindful practices such as meditation, yoga, and breathing
exercises. These individual practices can improve physical and mental health,
which will aid in addressing conflict.

            The second research article examines
the relationships between adult playfulness and relationship satisfaction
(Proyer, 2014). Proyer (2014) defines playfulness as prioritizing enjoyment,
pleasure, amusement, and having fun. The study was correlational and
researchers measured playfulness and relationship satisfaction through self-report
measures (Proyer, 2014). Their results indicated that playfulness was positively
associated with relationship satisfaction and other positive outcome variables
(e.g., academic performance, stress coping) (Proyer, 2014). Chick (2001)
examines playfulness through an evolutionary lens and suggests a signal theory
of playfulness. The signal theory of playfulness states that playfulness
indicates non-aggressiveness in males and fertility in women (Chick, 2001).

This is why playfulness is often looked at as a desirable trait in a romantic
partner. Proyer’s (2014) research also indicated that play can act as a social
lubricant and facilitates positive communication in relationships. Play also functions
as a promoter of intimacy, reduces conflict, and promotes positive
communication styles (Proyer, 2014). Play also allows individuals in a
relationship to celebrate their individuality in a relationship (Proyer, 2014).

In general, playfulness provides couples with effective communication skills to
address conflict in a healthy manner and prevents further manifestation of
conflicts.

            Implementing playfulness in
relationships can be different to everyone, this depends on what you consider
to be playful. The most important aspect of playful activities is that it is
something that brings pleasure and amusement. Couples should consider playful
activities that they will both enjoy. Some examples of playful activities for
couples include taking a cooking class, going on a picnic, watching a movie, or
going to a museum. With my friends, I find that all of them have very different
ideas of fun activities. Within my group of friends, I also find that the
couples who are more playful have more successful relationships. I think their
relationships are more successful because the playfulness makes them more open
minded and easy going, which can help in conflict. My easy going friends tend
to let go of conflicts with ease and move on. This is extremely important when
addressing unproductive conflict (a conflict that doesn’t address the real
issues). Although playfulness may seem unnecessary for relationships, the skills
gained through playfulness are essential for successful relationships.

            The last article is titled “Reasons
for divorce and recollections of premarital intervention” by Scott, Rhoades,
Stanley, Allen, & Markman (2013). Their research looks at recollections of
premarital intervention in divorced couples to develop potential implications
for relationship education (Scott et al., 2013). Their results indicate conflict
and arguments as one of the top three reasons for divorce (Scott et al., 2013).

Their findings suggest that most arguments begin with something very small and
unproductive but manifest into larger conflicts later in the relationship
(Scott et al., 2013). Unproductive conflicts are any conflicts that don’t
address the issue at hand, and are expressed through instigative communication
styles (e.g., sarcasm, blame) (Scott et al., 2013). Ross and Rachel from
Friends have many examples of unproductive conflicts, one of their most well-known
arguments they constantly brought up was when Ross cheated on Rachel. At the
time Ross believed they were on a break, however, Rachel thought they were just
having an argument. At first they kept bringing it up almost as a joke, but it
slowly started to accumulate with other issues. This is why their relationship
was always rocky with the on again off again pattern. The research suggests
letting go of small and unproductive conflicts in relationships to prevent
further issues (Scott et al., 2013). Letting go of unproductive conflicts is constructive
for the relationship as unproductive conflicts don’t help couples grow
together.  Although it isn’t easy to let
go of the small stuff sometimes, it also won’t help in the long run.

            In theory, it sounds easy to let go
of unproductive conflicts, but in reality, when the moment comes we often feel
the need to “win” the argument or conflict. During a conflict, an individual
should step back from the conflict and take a neutral position to determine
whether the conflict is indeed unproductive. After that has been established,
you should ask yourself “What would happen if I let my partner be right?” (Thompson
et al., 2005). You should really consider if you would be losing anything by
letting your partner be right. In unproductive conflicts, it makes sense to
just let your partner win because there is no point in continuing a conflict
that isn’t going anywhere.

            In conclusion, being able to prevent
and manage conflict will increase relationship satisfaction. The ability to
take preventive measures is also indicative of the levels of commitment within
a relationship. These measures require high levels of commitment to be effective.

Mindfulness, playfulness, and letting go of unproductive conflicts facilitate healthy
conflict management strategies and prevent conflicts. 

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