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Conflict Resolution for Couples

April 04, 2020

Conflict Resolution for Couples

All relationships experience conflict.  Even a good relationship has its share of ups and downs.  What makes a healthy relationship is not a lack of conflict.  How both partners manage and resolve conflict determines an open, honest, and successful relationship.

Causes of Conflict

 

There is no shortage of potential conflicts for relationships today given the external and internal stressors we all face.  Fears, differences, and expectations also play a large role in relational troubles.  Some partners fear rejection or a loss of independence.  Conflict might arise as a result of the couple’s different personalities, values, or beliefs.  Perhaps, one partner is expecting too much of the other.  When a couple is unable to agree on what the problem is, it is unlikely they will agree on how to solve it.  These are all common reasons for relational conflicts. 

 

Tolls on a Relationship

Resolving issues in a relationship requires work, but the toll of unresolved conflict is even greater.  These byproducts cause stress that flows into other areas of our lives, affecting us physically, emotionally, and financially.  Couples may experience a decrease in intimacy, as well as feelings of resentment, relational insecurity, and financial instability.  Communication might become difficult, as conversation about anything other than the conflict decreases.  Individuals may also experience lower self-esteem as a result of unresolved conflict.

 

Dealing with Conflict

There are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict.  When one partner makes all the decisions, the other might feel undervalued and resent this misuse of power.  On the flip side, if both partners avoid conflict, the problem will linger and escalate.  Partners will continue to play their roles to the best of their abilities, but the problem will never be resolved if it’s not addressed.  These are both examples of unhealthy ways to deal with conflict.

 

The best strategy for approaching conflict is for both partners to share their thinking, knowing the relationship itself gets the final vote.  Many times if a couple can focus on what’s best for the relationship as a whole, they are able to put aside their individual preferences and find compromise. 

 

Conflict Resolution Process

Here are some practical guidelines to help you work through potentially difficult relationship conversations:

  1. Be respectful- The words we speak only comprise a percentage of what’s communicated. Pay attention to both the verbal and nonverbal messages you are sending.  Details like how you sit, your tone of voice, and the words you choose should communicate to your partner how much you value them.  This will also demonstrate your commitment to the relationship.
    1. Yelling- The volume of your voice will not change your partner’s mind. A gentle tone might diffuse the situation and allow for open dialogue.  Conversely, yelling could anger one or both of you and discourage your partner from further communication.
    2. Positives- Try to focus on each other’s strengths and positive attributes. Discuss how you’ve overcome past obstacles without going into detail.  Knowing you’ve already worked through past challenges will help you stay realistic as you face this conflict.
    3. Affirm- Start and end by affirming your love. While your partner may know you love them, expressing it again communicates that you value their thoughts and feelings.  It might even help calm the situation.
  2. Use active listening- Do your best to understand the thoughts and feelings behind your partner’s words and body language. This is called active, or empathic listening.  Put yourself in your partner’s shoes to experience what they are saying and feeling.  You should be able to explain back to them how you understand their take on the situation. 
    1. Ownership- Consider that you also might have made a mistake. If you are willing to explore how your actions made your partner feel, you’re more likely to make positive changes.  In turn, your partner’s likelihood to consider his or her role in the problem increases. 
    2. Cool down- If you’re extremely angry, you might need some time to cool down before you can truly hear what your partner is saying. Take a step back and a quick time-out before resuming conversation.  This will help keep emotions under control. 
  3. Share your side- Explain your feelings, needs, and understanding of the situation. Be as brief and factual as possible without shaming your partner.  Share your emotional response to the situation.  Offer your suggestion for how to resolve the conflict.
    1. Trigger words- Avoid generalizations, exaggerations, and words like “always” and “never.” Give clear, specific examples instead of sweeping statements like, “You never do this,” or “You always do that.”
    2. Emotional abuse- Name-calling and other insults may feel good in the moment, but you will regret this behavior. Emotional abuse is not worth it.

Learning to work through conflict in a relationship might not happen overnight.  Be patient, as constructing a solution takes time and practice.  However, the more you’re able to hear each other and control your emotional reactivity, the greater the energy you’ll have to work on the relationship and create a viable solution. 

 

Want to talk to a counselor today about this? 

Call Amplified Life at 800-453-7733 and ask for your “Free 15 Minute Phone Consultation" with one of our licensed counselors. We’ll listen, answer questions you may have, and help you plan next steps.

 

Sources:

http://oscr.umich.edu/article/tips-and-tools-constructive-conflict-resolution

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcs-466-4.pdf