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Tips for Handling Conflict in Couples

by Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R

Conflict happens in every relationship. In fact, it is an inevitable part of any close and meaningful relationship between people who share and care about each other.  When managed correctly, conflict can be a wonderful opportunity for growth and may significantly strengthen the bonds of a relationship.  Nevertheless, when conflict occurs too often and is managed in a non-constructive manner, it can drive a wedge between what could otherwise be a healthy relationship and serve to push people apart from one another. After a prolonged period of unresolved conflict,  couples may experience anger, resentment and distrust which after time may morph into lack of respect, hopelessness and apathy.  Like any bodily wound, the longer conflict is repeated and sustained the more harmful it becomes and challenging to resolve effectively.

Below are some thoughts and suggestions on how to approach and manage conflict effectively and avoid what could be a downward spiral of destructive conflict:

  1. View conflict as an opportunity to understand your partner. People go into conflict about the things they care about. Taking time to consider why your partner was experiencing his/her thoughts and feelings which led to the conflict may result in better understanding of your partner.
  2. Be mindful of both yours and your partner’s individual style and comfort levels of relating to conflict – don’t assume because you may feel at ease “arguing” your point in an immediate moment, that your partner “should” as well.  Your partner may need some time to come to clarity about their feelings before discussing them.
  3. With respect to #2, do try and resolve conflict sooner than later or not at all.  Avoiding conflict or allowing conflict to fester can significantly and negatively  impact the relationship and intervening in a timely manner that feels ok and as safe as possible for both partners ensures a higher probability for satisfying solution.
  4. Do not try to resolve conflict in the heat of an argument when either or both partners are in the height of emotional reactivity. Sometimes it is better to let things “cool off” and have a “time out” before talking through the conflict.
  5. When discussing the conflict avoid the “blaming game” (i.e., you always…, you never…).
  6. Focus on understanding your partner and what led them to conflict mode (i.e., can you tell me what you were feeling when I said I didn’t want to go with you to your work event?)
  7. Express and exhibit your hurt and not your anger (i.e., when you said you didn’t want to come to my work event I felt hurt that you didn’t care about my work life). Anger will frequently result in a defensive and angry attitude in your partner.
  8. Avoid trying to “win” an argument or trying to “change” your partner, these strategies are doomed for failure.  Growth often happens through greater understanding of your partner and appreciation of what makes them different from you.
  9. Try to use empathic remarks which show that you understand your partner’s thoughts and feelings and honest self-report language to explain what your feelings were about  (i.e., when I said I didn’t want to go to your work event, I can understand why you felt hurt. I do care about your work life, I just feel anxious about going to your work event because I’m afraid your co-workers will judge me as not good enough for you).
  10. Seek out the compromise and middle ground which both you and your partner can agree on.
  11. Do not try and find an immediate resolution to conflict, resolving resolution may take time and requires persistence and patience.
  12. Seek professional help for conflict situations which persist. Couples counseling can be an effective model of treatment in learning how to better communicate with each other and avoid dysfunctional communication and relational patterns.

Like any new behavior, practice and repetition result in greater competency. Implementing and practicing the aforementioned suggestions may result in better outcomes to your conflict situations. We at NYC Therapy Group can assist you in learning how to implement the suggestions listed above effectively. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions about conflict situations.

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