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When you come to a conflict with your partner, how do you see them in that moment? Do you assume their good intentions, believing the best about them? Or do you find yourself critical and suspicious?

How we practice and build our relationship outside of conflict affects that view, and that view in turn can greatly affect our long term connection with our partner. Think about it: Conflict is exponentially more stressful if you’re suspicious of your partner, or feel your own motives criticized. Conflict moves exponentially more smoothly, on the other hand, if we’ve built a layer of trust and gratitude that frames how we see each choice our partner makes.

If your partner snaps angrily at you, you might think, “Excuse me! How rude! He never thinks about my needs; he’s so selfish about this!” And you’d probably snap right back at them.

Or, you might think: “Wow — that was rude. Hmmm. Why would she say something like that? Is something else bothering her? She had that big meeting at work today. Maybe she’s stressed from that pressure.” And you’d probably have a lot more patience for talking through the conflict. 

Assuming the best about your partner — in this example, that it is not in their nature to snap at you — fills you with that much more patience and grace, which allows you to actually deal with the problem, rather than fall into a critical argument.

Easier said than done, right?

How can we build that perspective of grace and appreciation? Well, just like any skill, you have to practice. And you don’t practice at the point of conflict; a soccer player who only played during the championship would have little chance of success. You practice every single day; you practice when there is less stress, and so when there’s more stress — you’ve already built those muscles.

Practice, in this case, looks like gratitude. Practice thanking your partner. Practice appreciating them, in their big and small actions. Speak that appreciation. Write it to yourself in your journal. Say it to your friends. Train yourself to notice everything good about your partner, and when conflict comes, you’ll still be able to see those things — instead of focusing on what’s frustrating you in the moment.