Conflict Resolution in US Couples
During conflict, avoid defensive behaviors. This will help you stay calm and find a way to work out your differences.
Focus on the problem not your partner. Try not to add up old grievances and bring them up in every argument.
Avoid generalizations like “you always” and “never.” This will only heighten tension.
1. Identify the Issue
When a couple begins the conflict resolution process, it’s important that they identify what’s actually bothering them. They can do this by having a clear discussion about the issue. For example, if the problem is that they’re bothered by their partner’s inability to stick to a budget, the first step would be for them to openly discuss the issue and find solutions.
It’s also essential that both partners validate each other’s feelings during a discussion. If you don’t do this, your partner may feel unheard and misunderstood. It’s also a good idea to avoid bringing up unrelated issues and past wrongdoings during a conversation, as this can exacerbate the tension.
In some cases, a conflict is simply unsolvable. This could be due to a personality trait that rubs you the wrong way or a long-standing problem like money issues. Regardless, couples should learn to manage unsolvable problems constructively by learning to agree to disagree. For couples who need help, counseling services can be a great resource. National University’s online MFT program prepares future marriage and family therapists to help their clients resolve their conflicts effectively.
2. Set Aside Time For Talking
Even the healthiest of couples encounter conflicts from time to time. However, how you and your partner manage those differences can have a direct impact on the strength and longevity of your relationship.
Thriving couples approach conflict with a healthy mindset, recognizing that the process of resolving differences is more important than the end result. Conversely, some couples engage in “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” behaviors during conflict, resulting in irreparable rifts and unresolved disagreements.
It’s also important to “pick your battles.” If an issue isn’t worth your time and energy—such as fighting over a parking space when there are dozens of empty spots nearby—just let it go.
During a conversation about a conflict, it’s best to have it in person so you can read your partner’s body language and avoid miscommunication. Additionally, it’s helpful to choose a quiet, private location where you can focus on the discussion without interruption. For example, you might want to set aside a room in your home or use an online therapy platform that specializes in couple’s counseling. During these sessions, couples are able to practice using healthy communication skills such as making repairs, being honest and open, and accepting one another’s feelings and opinions.
3. Listen To Your Partner
During a conflict, it’s important to communicate clearly. Explain your feelings and needs to your partner without accusing them of wrongdoing. Ask questions to clarify your perspectives and understand their viewpoints. Be patient and listen actively to your partner to avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings.
When a partner feels unheard or misunderstood, they may become defensive. This closes off healthy debate and prevents couples from reaching a resolution. To avoid defensiveness, listen to your partner with a non-defensive mindset and maintain eye contact during the conversation.
It’s also important to pay attention to your body language during a conflict. Crossed arms or a closed posture indicate you’re ready to defend yourself, while nodding and maintaining open body language show that you’re listening. Lastly, try not to interrupt your partner during their speech and don’t shift the subject. Sticking to one topic at a time will make it easier to reach a solution.
4. Take a Break
A break can be a way of resetting the relationship without the anger and heartbreak that a full-out breakup might have. This approach can be particularly useful for couples who are essentially “gridlocked” on a single issue, i.e., who are unable to move from a state of constant disagreement and gridlock into a more healthy dialogue in which they examine the core fundamental needs that underlie their steadfast positions.
When a couple agrees to take a break, they should develop some clear ground rules about how long the break will last and how they will be able to manage any shared responsibilities during the break. In addition, they should discuss whether or not they will be exclusive during the break and how they will handle other romantic or sexual relationships.
It’s important that the decision to take a break is not made in the heat of an argument. It’s also a good idea that the partners talk about what they hope to achieve during the break and how it will end, in order to avoid confusion and stress during the period of separation.
Apologizing and forgiveness are both essential to a healthy relationship. However, many couples struggle to find the right balance between addressing difficult topics and sweeping them under the rug. This can leave deep-seated emotions unresolved, which can lead to bitterness, resentment, and even isolation in the long-term.
According to research, the most important element of a successful apology is conveying honest remorse. But what exactly does that mean? In order to be effective, a genuine apology must accept responsibility for the mistake, express empathy for your partner’s feelings, and reaffirm your boundaries.
It’s also important to avoid using “but” in an apology, as this often implies defensiveness or a desire to explain or justify yourself. This can cause the other person to feel triggered or that you’re not taking your apology seriously. Also, over-explaining can saddle them with your emotional labor and make it harder for them to work through their own feelings. Lastly, offering reparation can help repair the damage of your mistake. This may be as simple as washing the dishes for a week, or it could be more involved depending on the situation.