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Top Tips for Managing Conflict in a Relationship

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  • Remember you can only control what comes out of your mouth, you can’t control how your partner hears or understand what you say. So choose your words carefully and pick a good time to discuss a high conflict issue. Just when you want to talk isn’t a good enough time, it needs to work for the two of you.


  • Avoid a harsh start-up or an aggressive start that is loud angry and comes out with YOU NEVER, YOU ALWAYS or WHY DON’T YOU EVER or WHY DO YOU ALWAYS… Dr. John Gottman discusses in detail how this harsh start up will result in an immediate reaction of defensiveness and withdrawal. Instead approach a dilemma with the belief you’ll be able to work it out and start with kind words and praise about something positive and state your need.


  • Another key part in approaching conflicts where you and your partner do not want the same thing is to accept up front that marriage or relationships change your freedom. This change of freedom is not a loss of freedom but rather people in relationships must accept that they will no longer get what they want in the exact form as the want it.

If you want your way, without any comprise you cannot be in a relationship. Instead relationship require everyone to compromise. So you can get what you want but it will look different. Must couples think comprise is either we do it my way or your way. This is not compromise. Instead it is learning how to do AND, so we can get my way AND your way. This means we must both give in, give up, let go or do something different so we can both get what we want.


  • Do not try and convince your partner you are right! This is a tough one, but relationships are the only place where there is no “ONE ULTIMATE” right way. Rather, there is how you see it and it is right AND there is how your partner sees it, it also right. By acknowledging this subjective reality that you both have the ability to see things your own way can go along way to keep tensions low. You both need to come up with a solution that works for both of you. You’ll both have to concede a bit…it’s not about winner takes all, because then the relationship or the 2 of you lose. Instead focus on what you are both flexible on and inflexible and start to make the inflexible areas bigger for the relationship, not each other.


  • Before starting a conflict discussion, think about why you love your relationship.  Loving your relationship is different than loving your partner. You must love this relationship more than you love your own needs because you need to put the relationship first. The needs of the relationship are different than your needs or your partner’s needs. If you do something for your partner you create obligation and tit for tat. People never agree on who owes who what or what an action is worth So if you want to do something do it because you love your relationship and want to make it better.


If you are having a lot of “victim contest”, which are partners fighting over who has done more, who has it harder, who has given more, these are signs you are doing things for each other and not the relationship. The purpose of “victim contests” are to convince your partner you are the bigger victim or looser and they need to give in and do it your way. There is no love in these kind of fights.


  • Before starting a conflict discussion remind yourself that your partner hasn’t had an opportunity to share his/her point of view and most likely may not be aware of your point of view. Too often people start a conflict discussion with a solution that only addresses the initiators concerns. The initiator is focused on getting their solution without considering their partner’s concerns and the solutions they may want. Again back to earlier point, don’t focus on being right, focus on understanding. Realize solution building comes much later after both of you have worked together to define the problem.


  • Remember that you are in control of what comes out of your mouth and you are not in control of your partners ears. This means that if you are not understood you need to change what you are saying so that your partner can understand. Too often couples focus on wanting their partner to understand, rather than focusing on being understood. When I focus on getting you to understand I can’t control your ears, your eyes or how you process the information. I keep insisting you change. When I focus on being understood, I control my words, how I say them and make sure my message gets across.


  • Before speaking, review how you see the problem and what YOU, yourself are willing to do solve the issue without it being conditional on your partner. Too often people come to a conflict discussion with a long list of things their partner needs to do and this will be guaranteed to be met with resistance. No adult likes another adult telling them what to do you. So do the ground work on what you are willing to do solve the problem and let your partner see what s/he is will to do.


Finally if both are getting up to upset. TAKE A BREAK agree to come back in 30 minutes and STOP TALKING. Do not try to get the last word in. Both people are getting to a flooded state where literally the ability to problem solved is gone. Once you get flooded nothing productive will occur. Respect your partner if they say they need a break. YOU CAN COME BACK TO THE DISCUSSION.


Learning better conflict management skills in a relationship is a unique skill, counselling can help you become more effective. Give us a call.

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