Conflict Resolution Strategies for Couples
Conflict is natural, and every couple will experience it at various points in their relationship. Couples that are able to navigate conflict tend to follow certain strategies.
The following are highly effective strategies every couple can use to get to the other side of a conflict in a loving and respectful way:
Create a Safe Space
When an argument begins, how many of us go into it with the intent of “winning” or, at least, proving the other person wrong? Having this intention is a recipe for disaster and resentment.
To resolve conflict, establish respectful rules. These can include:
- No yelling
- No name-calling
- No physical aggression
- No foul language
- No blaming or shaming
- Taking a timeout if needed
Without a safe space to interact, honest and open communication cannot take place.
Get Curious, Avoid Defensiveness, and Validate
Resolving conflict requires validation of both partners’ feelings and perspectives. When you place blame on the other or state that they are somehow wrong, they will feel unheard and misunderstood. And arguing from this place will never lead to resolution of the original conflict.
If you find yourself wanting to counter what your partner is sharing, is it possible to be curious instead? Ask open-ended questions so that you can better understand their perspective. To paraphrase John Gottman, understanding must proceed resolution or compromise, and I would add any apology.
Feeling defensive? Use that as an opportunity to see if there isn’t some small part for which you can take responsibility. Defensiveness will likely give your partner the sense that she/he has not been heard and understood as it deflects from their experience.
Acknowledge your partner’s feelings. Listen fully when they speak. Make eye contact (stay off your phone!). Nod while they are speaking. Thank them for sharing their thoughts and feelings with you.
It can be helpful to summarize what you’ve heard them say. This way, your partner has a chance to correct anything you might have misunderstood.
Can you validate any part of your partner’s experience, thoughts, and/or feelings? Remember validating doesn’t mean you take full responsibility; it means you understand the situation from your partner’s perspective.
You will be amazed at how much different things go when you validate your partner.
Find the Middle-Ground
Conflict resolution ultimately relies on both of you being able to come to a compromise. Look for ways to find that balance between what both of you want and what you are comfortable with. Share with one another your non-negotiables and why they are important to you. Be open to where there is wiggle room and share that as well. Both parties must be willing to give up a little in order to achieve a real compromise.
Depending on the root cause of the conflict, professional counseling may be warranted. An argument that stems from someone not doing their fair share of chores might be easy for a couple to work through, but when resentment has built up or a conflict that is rooted in, say, financial trouble or infidelity, professional help might be needed.
If you and your partner seem to be unable to resolve your conflicts on your own and would like to seek assistance, please get in touch with me. I would be more than happy to discuss how therapy can help.