Conflict Resolution Strategies for Couples
Conflict is natural, and every relationship experiences (and needs) conflict. The key is whether that conflict creates distance, distrust, and isolation or whether it creates curiosity, connection and growth. For happy couples, conflict is not something to avoid but rather something to approach with caution (read: curiosity, respect, attunement & emotion regulation).
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 proving the other person wrong? Having this intention is a recipe for disaster and resentment. A common question therapists ask is, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship?” When the priority is being right, the relationship takes a back seat. We might take a win-at-all-costs approach that could lead us to say or do things that corrode the trust, respect, and emotional safety in the relationship.
To resolve conflict, you and your partner(s) first need to establish expectations for maintaining an emotionally safe space for fighting. These can include:
No blaming or shaming
Sticking to the fight at hand
Using “I” statements
Taking breaks to prevent getting overwhelmed, shutting down, or blowing up
There is no vulnerability without safety. Therefore, without a safe space to interact, each partner is operating from a place of protection – defending, justifying, and fighting for themselves.
Seek to understand & validate before problem-solving
Before we can resolve conflict, we first need to know what the conflict is – and there is a good chance you and your partner have different perceptions about this. Start with curiosity about your partner’s experience (e.g., feelings, perceptions, beliefs). If you disagree with your partner’s version of the conflict (which you likely will), that is okay, normal, and expected. Refrain from immediately trying to explain your side; instead, see if you can be curious and understanding anyways. Try asking yourself, “Given what I know about my partner, their history & fears, and this situation, could it make sense that they are feeling this way, regardless of my intentions?” Remember, validating your partner’s experience is not the same as agreeing with it.
Acknowledge your partner’s feelings. Listen fully when they speak, ask non-judgmental questions for clarification, make eye contact, and stay with their experience. Reflect back on what you have heard and understood about their experience of the conflict. Check to see if they feel understood, and repeat the process until they do.
Then switch roles; it’s your turn to share your version of the conflict. Now that your partner(s) feels important enough to be listened to and considered, understood, and validated, the chances that they will be able to do the same for you are far higher than if they were feeling blamed & like they are a problem or enemy.
Find the Middle-Ground
Only once we understand where each person is coming from can we find a suitable compromise that meets enough needs of the people involved for it to work. We are also far more likely to compromise when we feel safe and like our partner is also compromising.
If you find yourselves repeating the same fights again and again, engaging in the same patterns that keep you stuck, feeling disconnected, unheard, and not good enough, or unable to repair after fights, it may be time to seek professional support.
Relationship counselling helps people to slow down, identify the patterns that are keeping them stuck, understand why these patterns are showing up, and learn strategies to step out of them.
Relationship counselling at the Calgary Counselling and Psychology Centre focuses on the underlying, more deeply rooted ways in which partners show up (or don’t show up) in their relationships. Your counsellor will not take sides, determine fault, or assign ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. What your counsellor will do is help you to identify your patterns, attune to your partner(s), and create a toolbox of coping strategies for emotional regulation, effective communication, and repair.
If you are interested in relationship counselling, please connect with us today!
**Please note that this article is not speaking about abusive, coercive, or otherwise unsafe relationship dynamics**