Managing Conflict

Conflicts are a normal and natural part of any relationship. The only exception seems to be the infatuation period of a new romantic relationship when you both seem to magically want the same things all of the time.

Photo of couple sitting on a pier.

Unfortunately, this period does not last forever. Eventually you will disagree. One of you will want something the other one does not, and resentment arises when you do not get what you want. Resentment causes distance in the relationship. So, what are some things you can do to keep the normal conflict from creating irreconcilable differences?

  • Deal with one problem at a time.
  • Focus on issues in the present, not the past. Don’t dredge up old grievances.
  • Adopt a win-win strategy. There is a problem to be solved, not a victory to be won.
  • Be clear and specific both in your complaints and in your requests for change.
  • Suggest some possible solutions to the problems you present. Also brainstorm with your partner for other potential solutions. Try to come up with as many solutions as possible, and then do a cost-benefit analysis of these alternatives.
  • Be reasonable and realistic in your statements.
  • Check out your assumptions no matter how “obvious” they might be to you or how “certain” you are about your partner’s views.
  • Legitimize and decriminalize: Legitimizing is an attempt to understand why your partner did what he or she did. It is an attempt to understand why it made sense to do that specific thing at that time. Decriminalizing means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. You absolve your partner of the intent to hurt you by his or her actions. “I know that hurting me was not your intent, but when you…”
  • Ask yourself whether conflict is the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Are you misreading or misinterpreting the behavior of the other person?
  • Choose an appropriate time and place to be open and honest about your feelings and needs. Don’t choose public places where embarrassment is probable.
  • Use tact and timing. Don’t bring up important issues when there is neither time nor energy to resolve them. Request a time that will work for both of you.
  • Don’t use unfair or dirty tactics. This means no bullying, ridiculing, name-calling, accusing, blame withholding, mimicking, or exaggerating.
  • Show respect for your partner.
  • Don’t nag, whine, preach, or lecture. These behaviors will only erode your relationship.
  • Avoid arguing over the “truth” or “who is right.” People have feelings that need to be heard and accepted. These feelings are neither true nor false.
  • Listen, listen, listen.

From “Passage to Intimacy” by Lori H. Gordon, Ph.D. and “Love is Never Enough” by Aaron Beck, M.D.