Conflict in Relationships

Just because you and your partner (or family member, friend, etc.) may have differences in opinions, views or communication style, doesn't mean your interactions have to turn into conflict. Conflict is optional. It occurs when one or both partners attempt to coerce the other into adopting their point of view. Fear underlies conflict. Therefore, when fear and competition become the motivators for the argument, conflict arises. Two simple ways to avoid conflict are to 1) look at each other as partners, rather than opponents and 2) deescalate tension as soon as it arises. Here are some of my suggestions to achieve effective conflict management:

1. Be honest

  • As soon as you notice yourself becoming tense or anxious, speak up about it. Express how you feel. Example: “I’m afraid that I might say something that makes things worse rather than better so I’m feeling reluctant to speak.”

  • The important thing is to use "I" language, and keep it on you, rather than point the finger at your partner. Example: “I’m feeling hurt, angry, scared, sad, etc. and I’m not saying that it’s your fault. I’m just telling you in the hopes of staying connected and not disengaging from each other.”

  • Many of us find it easy to "white lie," exaggerate, give misinformation, give half-truths, etc. However, sooner or later dishonesty leads to more conflict.

2. Don't use your words as weapons

  • No name-calling. This is never productive and only escalates conflict.

  • Speak without blame or judgment. (Refer to using "I" statements).

  • The more we can focus on our own experience rather than our partner’s, the less threatened or defensive he/she is likely to feel. This also allows our partner to be more open and receptive to the conversation.

3. No physical contact

  • When tension is high, it is not a good idea to use touch. That also goes for throwing, hitting, or kicking things. If you get the impulse to break or throw something, redirect the anger into something constructive such as exercise, free-writing in your journal, screaming into a pillow, etc.

4. Don't make threats or give ultimatums.

  • This goes for threatening divorce, breaking up, quitting a job, ending a friendship, etc. The time to discuss any of these things is not during the middle of a heated argument.

5. Slow down.

  • Slow down when speaking. Take time to pause and reflect.

  • Think before you speak. Is what you are about to say kind, thoughtful, necessary and productive?

6. Use “time-outs.”

  • Either partner has the right to call a "time-out" or excuse him/herself from an argument when he/she experiences a heightened level of tension or anger. This request should be honored and not challenged. It can help to have an agreed-upon time for when the discussion can be resumed.

7. Rather than expressing your opinions, express your feelings and needs.

8. Don't give unsolicited advice.

  • Even if your partner asks for your advice, keep it on your own experience, rather than forcing your opinion.

9. Thank your partner.

  • Even if you have not resolved the issue at hand, thanking your partner can help promote good will and kindness between the two of you. This can also help break current tension, as well as minimize fear for future discussions.

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