Relationships are hard, there’s no doubt about it. They’re also rewarding, and supportive, and fulfilling. But when it feels like you and your partner are pulling in opposite directions, or every little thing becomes an argument, it’s time to think about how to resolve relationship conflict and re-connect with each other.
Relationship conflict can be a result of depression, anxiety, or other struggles that one or more partner is experiencing. It often becomes most noticeable in times of major change or stress.
While stressors and other underlying situations are understandable and good to keep in mind, it doesn’t mean that a constant state of conflict is an acceptable state of affairs for your relationship.
Conflict in relationships can result in one or both partners feeling depressed and lonely. It can pull partners apart and cause avoidance and frustration.
But those don’t have to become your new normal. Here are five helpful tips to help you resolve relationship conflict.
1 – Talk (Really Talk)
If given the choice, a lot of us would rather avoid conflict. It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional.
But the only way to resolve conflict is to address it which, in relationship, means conversation. Find a way to communicate openly with your partner about the situation (or situations) that is leading to the recurrent conflict between you.
Time to Talk
This probably means that you will need to set aside a time to come together for the conversation. Ideally, it will be a time when you aren’t rushing off to work or trying to get dinner on the table. Find a time when you can create mental space for the conversation.
Be clear with your partner about what’s causing you to react the way you do. Maybe it was something that hurt you. This clarity will involve really thinking about the thoughts and feelings behind your reactions to and subsequent interactions with your partner.
Is it that he didn’t do the dishes? What does it mean to you that he doesn’t do the dishes? Perhaps you feel ignored, or like he doesn’t take you seriously and doesn’t see how tired you are at the end of the day. Or that it makes you feel like he doesn’t value your time and contributions to the relationship?
Do you hate when she invites her friends over? Perhaps the way she laughs with them makes you feel like she’s ganging up on you. How does that affect you? Do you feel abandoned when she’s with her friends?
Try to identify how her actions affect you underneath your initial emotional response.
These everyday fights have deeper meaning in the underlying relationship conflict. We feel ignored, not important, taken for granted or even left behind.
Identifying and communicating the underlying feelings can help couples communicate their true feelings and eventually resolve relationship conflict in a satisfying way.
Be open when you’re sharing how you feel and what’s bothering you. Talk about yourself, how you feel, and how your partner’s comment or action affected you.
It can be tempting, but don’t fall into accusations and pointing fingers. Remember that this is your partner and you are working toward a mutual goal and a supportive relationship.
Be open when you’re listening as well. Spend the time hearing what your partner is saying rather than planning what you will say in response.
2 – Avoid Using “Always” and “Never”
Although it may feel like she always does something that you hate, or he never follows through with something you need, these superlatives tend to be exaggerations of reality.
They also put the other party on the defensive. Instead of listening to your concerns, your partner will probably start listing all the times they didn’t do something you said they always do.
It can be most effective to talk about a specific event that’s bothering you. Explain what happened, how it made you feel, and what you think is underlying that emotional response.
Do the best you can to describe your frustrations more specifically. Try phrases like, “When you do this, it makes me feel _______.” Or, “Sometimes I feel this way because…” Or, “This situation makes me think that…”
3 – Listen (Really Listen)
Sometimes we nod along while our partner is talking but we’re only putting on a show when what we’re really doing is denying their accusations in our heads or planning what to say next.
When you and your partner sit down to resolve conflict, make it your intention to really listen when your partner is talking.
Techniques for Listening
Be present and available. Demonstrate that you’re listening by making eye contact.
Remind yourself that you will get the opportunity to talk, too, and resist the urge to interrupt your partner.
When they’ve finished, paraphrase what your partner said. This gives them the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings, and to see that you heard the points they made.
Feeling heard makes you feel connected and has a calming effect. Not feeling heard will make you even more frustrated, and possibly heighten the conflict between you.
4 – Demonstrate Respect
Both when you’re listening and when you’re talking, keep in mind that all people deserve to be shown respect—especially your partner. Don’t judge. Be mindful not to demean your partner with snide comments, facial expressions, or sounds. Don’t put your partner down or dismiss them. Don’t call them names. Know that making them feel bad will not bring you closer to your goal of resolution.
Techniques for Showing Respect
Give your partner time to talk, or even invite them to share if they seem hesitant. Reassure them that you’re listening (and really listen).
Speak and respond with empathy and consideration. This means that you should be open and accept what your partner is saying and avoid minimizing their feelings.
When both of you have had the opportunity to share your grievances and explain the feelings behind the conflict, it is important that both parties take responsibility for the parts that are theirs.
Apologize for the hurt you may have caused and your part in any wrongs. This demonstrates ownership and understanding of your actions and how they’ve affected your partner. This action makes it easier for the other party to forgive.
5 – Make a Game Plan
When both parties have taken responsibility for what is theirs, come up with a plan for the future. Discuss what each of you can do in similar situations as they are likely to arise again.
Once the main sources of conflict have been addressed, you might also try these strategies for rejuvenating your relationship.
Another key to healthy relationships is to remember to take care of yourself. Make sure that you are attending to your own needs individually so that you have the emotional capacity to be there for your partner, too.
Sometimes, couples think they’ve talked through an issue only to have it come up again later. Know that this is normal. It also might be a good time to seek a professional’s help—a professional counselor who specializes in couples counseling can offer a safe place to have these discussions and guide both of you in the most effective conflict resolution techniques.
Dr. Irena uses the most effective modality of couples therapy—Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT has been proven to help couples overcome their constant conflict and foster a more positive relationship.
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for women and couples in Texas and New York City. She uses research-proven method, known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples develop and maintain the emotional connection and support each other through stressful times. She has helped highly distressed couples be available and responsive to each other, access their resiliency, and strengthen their relationships.
If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (281)-267-1742.
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