Healthy Conflict Resolution

Let’s be honest: couples fight! This scenario gets a bad rep. but in reality, healthy conflict is an essential component of even the happiest and healthiest relationships. Arguments can be used as a tool to express feelings, gain insight and awareness, create necessary boundaries, and get rid of any “internal negativity” by getting it out–reducing the risk of possible resentment. But what happens when an argument gets out of hand?

De-escalating Conflict

When the argument becomes too heated and one or both participants begins to spiral out of control, the best thing to do it to take a few deep intentional breaths. This immediately resets the physiological systems that cause stress. At this moment, the opportunity for de-escalation is possible as the heart rate slows and muscles become less tense.

Tips for de-escalating conflict: Lower your voice, soften your tone, relax your body, acknowledge your partner’s feelings, validate their good points, appreciate that you both have different perspectives, and/or take a “time-out.”

Time-Out = Time for Reflection

A “time-out” is a healthy way to de-escalate the conflict. To be most effective, assure your partner that the conversation can continue at a later scheduled time. Take this opportunity to reflect by pondering a series of questions such as:

  •                        Which aspects of the argument hurt you the most?
  •                        What “below the surface” emotions are you feeling?
  •                        How did the argument begin? What trigger(s) escalated the argument?
  •                        Were situations/feelings from your past evoked?
  •                        What would you most like your partner to understand from the argument?

Problem Solving and Repair

 A great way to resolve conflict is to take on the issue as if you are on the same team, oh wait……you ARE on the same team! Take responsibility for your part and allow your partner to talk while actively listening. Brainstorm possible solutions together and thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of each. Come up with a game plan on how to handle the next disagreement. Repair any possible damage by apologizing, compromising, reassuring, and of course nurturing each other.

Mastering healthy conflict resolution takes practice. Couple’s therapy can help with not only identifying the core themes causing conflict but also in teaching techniques to de-escalate arguments and skills to repair afterward. In my experience, couples who embrace the skills necessary for healthy conflict resolution report greater relational satisfaction.