This article was updated in October 2021.
All couples experience conflict at one time or another. Conflict in personal relationships isn’t inherently bad (or good), and neither is anger.
When two people form a relationship, conflict resolution is a necessary and important skill to learn so you can effectively manage conflict when it arises.
Arguments often occur when one partner’s wants or needs aren’t being met. So when you experience conflict, it’s often a sign your relationship needs to grow.
But unresolved conflict in a relationship is unhealthy when it’s the prevailing state, defining the relationship with a chaotic, loud, and tense energy. It’s essential you resolve conflict to feel safe so your relationship can thrive and endure, along with your mental health.
If you’re experiencing ongoing relationship conflict and don’t know how to resolve it, read these 7 tips for help.
Give up your need to be right
The need to win every argument, every point, indicates emotional immaturity. If one person wins, then the other partner will lose.
If you really care about someone you don’t want him or her to feel patronized, belittled, or manipulated—which is what happens when you fight your partner to validate your ego at every possible opportunity.
And if you and your partner have formed bad habits of constantly butting heads and slinging personal attacks, it could be a sign of deeper trouble in the relationship.
Relationships thrive when both people decide to bravely work to resolve conflict and find a middle ground rather than retreat into battle positions and fight until the actual problem is forgotten and exhaustion sets in.
Even if you know you’re right, about whatever seems so important at that moment, is proving it worth making the most important person in your life feel stupid?
On the other hand, people sometimes disagree and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can always respectfully agree to disagree, which is a healthy way to handle conflict.
Don’t be passive-aggressive
If you suppress anger when you’re angry at your partner or family members, it can be unhealthy.
Not speaking to your partner when you’re angry is a no-win communication strategy, but many people do it. You may do it to avoid conflict but it eventually builds resentment between you and your partner and prolongs the argument.
Despite leaps forward with Artificial Intelligence, we still can’t read each other’s minds, so glaring at your significant other and expecting them to know why you’re so angry is not going to work. It will just make them feel punished, confused, or even angrier than you are.
When managing conflict in a healthy way, you have to have some faith in the other person. It’s important you honestly share your own feelings so your partner can begin to understand your point of view and know exactly what you need.
Set rules to fight fair, early in the relationship: no silent treatment, listen without judging, don’t go to bed angry.
Choose your words
Your words start as thoughts, then turn into actions (which turn into habits, and character). When one partner makes personal attacks with name-calling, sarcastic tone, or ugly curses, the ongoing impact on the relationship is huge.
Communicate in a healthy way by choosing the words you use with care, and pause to breathe in the middle of an argument.
Besides dampening the potential in a relationship, constantly shooting out negative words like arrows will make your own life less interesting, less happy.
Choosing words out of love and respect actually builds good karma, and it builds up the relationship. You’ll hear more kind words in return, too.
Slow down your discussion
One of the strategies I’m often getting couples to do in my therapy room is to slow down and stick to one issue at a time.
When you’re triggered by repeating negative patterns causing you to feel frustrated and angry, it’s hard to keep track of what’s being said because the discussion moves so quickly and before you know it, multiple issues are being opened at once.
One very effective way of managing conflict is to spend time slowing down the process so you can listen carefully to what your partner is saying without reacting quickly.
To effectively resolve conflict, take time to reflect on the other’s perspective before you respond. Just this simple strategy can completely change the conversation and de-escalate the rising tensions.
Let go of your hang-ups, let go of the past
Holding onto past hurts—from relationship conflict, perceived slights, a bad night’s sleep, anything—increases their power over you. Don’t keep a tally of who wins what argument in the relationship; it’s juvenile and pointless.
Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past. Bring your attention to this moment, to where the relationship is right now, free from the baggage of your last fight.
This is a major part of helping move the relationship forward in a healthy way with dignity and new energy.
Repair quickly to get back on track
After a fight, whether it’s mild or a category 5 cyclone, the first step is to repair your relationship quickly. This includes taking responsibility and making a sincere apology for the hurt you caused.
Maybe you and your partner couldn’t resolve the conflict before you went to sleep, and you slept in separate beds because of this.
First thing in the morning, it’s a good thing to sit down and talk. Don’t go off to work still mad at each other. Lingering discord will affect both your days and the relationship will have one wheel off the track. Forgiveness gets easier every time you do it.
The best couples seek to resolve hurts and conflict quickly, so they can get back on track and feel united. Over time, this fosters ongoing resilience in your relationship.
Take care of yourself
You can’t care for a relationship properly if you’re not caring for yourself too. Sleeping well, exercising, spending time breathing deeply in a quiet room: all of these acts of self-care will build up your physical, emotional and mental health.
Self-care helps you clear your head and lower your blood pressure. And ultimately, it helps you stay steady when resolving conflict and makes your relationship stronger.
Do you need relationship help?
If you’re considering relationship counselling services, Clinton Power has extensive experience helping people create better relationships through his counselling process of using evidence-based therapeutic approaches based on the science of healthy relationships.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.