Having robust conflict resolution strategies is essential for the survival of any long-term committed relationship. That’s because when two people with different ideas, personalities and points of view come together, there are bound to be conflicts. Not being equipped to handle these difference can make relationship conflict chronic.
Once that happens, things can unravel quickly, bringing your relationship to the brink of breaking. That said, conflict in itself isn’t a bad thing, as long as both partners are willing to do the work to fix it.
One of the relationship conflict quotes by American clinical psychologist Dr Julier Gottman best sums it up, “Conflict is the opportunity to learn to love our partners better over time.” Let’s try to decode relationship conflict dynamics and resolution strategies to help you embrace this unpleasant yet inevitable aspect of togetherness.
What Causes Relationship Conflict?
Relationship conflict can be attributed to a variety of factors. Before you explore techniques for conflict resolution in relationships, it is important to get to the root of the problem. Here are the 5 most common causes of conflict among couples:
1. Selfishness is a key cause of relationship conflict
If you explore what causes relationship conflict, selfishness will emerge as one of the most prominent triggers. Often, people become so fixated with their own needs and desires that they forget to see how these affect their partners.
Conflict can arise between couples when one partner fails to factor in the other in important life decisions. Irrespective of whether this happens unwittingly or intentionally, it impacts the health of a relationship.
2. Poor communication skills can broaden the divide
Communication between couples isn’t just about what you say or don’t but also how you say it. Dealing with relationship conflict can become that much harder if communication is geared toward arguments.
When both partners become intent on proving they are right, positive communication is hindered. This leads to an escalation of tension and deepening of conflict in the relationship.
3. Resentment fuels conflict between partners
If one or both partners tend to offend each other often, a sense of hurt takes root. The person who is hurt may not express their emotions to their partner openly but feels discontent. This can cause couples to become distant over time.
Unresolved negative emotions can fuel resentment. This not only becomes a trigger for conflict but also makes the resolution of differences harder.
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4. Constant criticism aggravates relationship conflict
No one likes to be constantly picked on or criticized. Particularly not by one’s partner. Conflict is bound to take root in a relationship where criticism and constant fault-finding are the norms. When one partner pins the blame of all that goes wrong on the other and steals credit for all positive development, it drives a wedge it the relationship. Criticism and nagging become a source of conflict.
5. Unrealistic expectation can also cause trouble in paradise
Nearly of us have grown up on the notions of ‘happily ever after’, ‘prince charming’ and ‘knights in shining armor’. Those who carry these fantastical notions into their adult relationships set themselves up for trouble. Placing unrealistic expectations on one’s partner or setting the bar too high for relationship goals is bound to result in disappointment.
That becomes a constant cause for conflict and tension in the relationship.
Stages of Relationship Conflict
Relationship conflict takes root long before the first symptoms of discord begin to surface. Even though these stages of relationship conflict may not always be linear or mutually exclusive, understanding them can help you recognize the warning signs early on. And thus, develop conflict resolution strategies in time.
Here are the 5 key stages of relationship conflict you should keep an eye out for:
1. Inner disturbance
In the heart of your hearts you know something is amiss in your relationship. But you haven’t been able to put a finger on it yet. The trouble is if you can’t name a problem, you can’t take steps to deal with it. Even so, do not ignore this gut feeling.
Use it as a nudge to introspect on your relationship.
2. Avoiding issues
Over time the underlying issues in the relationship become clear. At this stage, most couples resort to avoiding difficult conversations about their problems rather than tackling them as a team. Brushing issues under the carpet is an ill-equipped coping technique. One that backfires, almost always.
3. Perceiving your partner as an adversary
Not dealing with relationship conflict head-on causes the issues and negative emotions to magnify. You begin to view your partner as an adversary. Even the smallest disagreements get blown out of proportion, and you start reacting to each other from a place of anger, resentment and aversion.
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4. Seeking validation
If relationship conflict gets past the third stage without resolution, it could lead to serious alienation between partners. Now, you begin airing your dirty laundry in public and seeking validation for your actions vis-à-vis your partner’s from your inner circle of family and friends.
5. Signs of aggression
At the fifth and final stage of relationship conflict, aggression seeps into the relationship. Aggression doesn’t necessarily mean physical acts of violence. It can fall anywhere in the range of sarcastic jibes to lashing out.
In extreme cases, it may manifest as violent outbursts.
8 Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies You Can Try
Conflict in a relationship can make partners feel attacked and threatened. It is natural to operate from a place of defensiveness in such a situation. While many couples succeed in making up after a fight, the underlying core issues often remain unaddressed.
Here 8 effective conflict resolution strategies you can try to fix negative patterns in your relationship and connect with your partner better:
1. Reset focus from yourself to the relationship
How to resolve conflict in a relationship when both feel strongly? This question weighs on the minds of couples dealing with conflicting opinions. The first step here is to rest your focus. Direct your energies toward solving the problem at hand instead of the hurt or anger you may be feeling.
This small change in outlook can go a long way in helping you look at yourself and your partner as a team and your relationship conflict as the common enemy.
2. Use communication to bridge gaps when dealing with relationship conflict
Wondering how do you end the conflict in a relationship? Know that using communication as a tool to bridge gaps and not widen them is a critical part of the process. Whenever you are presented with an impasse, don’t use your words to fuel arguments and disagreements.
Instead, choose them carefully so that you can find a middle ground that’s acceptable to both parties.
Replace words like ‘you always do this’, ‘I knew you’d say that’ or ‘why can’t you understand for once’ with ‘I get how you feel, but…’ or ‘I know you’re not comfortable. How about we…’ When you offer a comprise, more often than not your partner will reciprocate by adjusting or backtracking on their position.
An issue is tackled before it blows up. This is one of the conflict resolution strategies that almost always do the trick.
3. Look at conflict as an opportunity
Here is one of the best relationship conflict quotes to live by, “At the end of the day, you can either focus on what’s tearing you apart or what’s keeping you together.” The idea of using conflict as an opportunity is rooted in this outlook on relationships.
When in disagreement with your partner, don’t channelize your energies in trying to win or prove your point.
There is no benefit in making your partner lost anyway. Use it as an opportunity to understand where you both differ in your perspective and how you can align your points of view more. You may not succeed a 100 per cent of the time but there will be definitive progress. In situations where you cannot agree with your partner, learn to respect their point of view and embrace your differences.
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4. Humor is one of the fool-proof conflict resolution strategies
Even the healthiest relationships get caught in a retaliatory spiral at times. This happens when you’re going through a rough patch in your relationship or life. Humor can be the perfect antidote to break free from the vicious circle of arguments and disagreements.
If you feel yet another argument is building up or escalating, use humor to derail and disarm it. Crack an old inside joke, sing a song, recount an old memory. As you catch each other with your guard down, it will become easier to connect. Suddenly, even the most daunting conflict will seem ridiculous.
5. Questions are important for conflict resolution in relationships
Well, at least, the right kind of questions. This is one of the conflict resolution strategies that can be particularly helpful for couples who fear that difference may take a toll on their relationship. Dig into your past and ask yourself the right questions to uncover the underlying issues triggering conflict.
At what point did your relationship take a turn for the worse? Was there a significant setback? Or did a pent up of small issues cause a breakdown? Is your relationship held back by some limiting beliefs? What kind of future do you want with your partner? How can you build it?
These are some of the questions to help you get started on the path of introspection. However, make sure you approach this exercise with the right mindset. The objective is to resolve conflict and not play the blame-game.
6. How do you end the conflict in a relationship? Start with acceptance
We all have our share of less than desirable habits, patterns and tendencies. If you want to eliminate chronic conflict from your relationship, accepting your partner’s ‘negative’ traits is a must. Focus on what you love about them or how they make you feel instead of quirks and habits that drive you up the wall.
When you learn to accept that your partner is a person with strengths and weaknesses, good qualities and bad, the not-so-pleasant aspects of their personality won’t bother you anymore. Just like that those recurring fights about leaving the wet towel on the bed or spending too much time on the phone will become non-issues.
7. At the same time, recognize your negative patterns
Just like your partner, you too have your share of shortcomings and weaknesses. Working on recognizing and at least trying to eliminate those is one of the vital conflict resolution strategies.
Let’s say you tend to close up and become withdrawn in face of conflict. Owing to this, you end up giving your partner the silent treatment in every fight. The lack of communication, in turn, infuriates them. And even a small agreement blows over into a long drawn-out fight.
The next time there is an argument, make a conscious effort to break this pattern. If you cannot bring yourself to initiate conversation, at least be open to it when your partner makes an effort.
8. Forgiveness holds the key to conflict resolution in relationships
Long-standing disputes and differences can lead to feelings of hurt, anger, mistrust in a relationship. Even more so if trust between partners takes a hit. In such a situation, one of the best conflict resolution strategies is forgiveness.
Forgiveness in relationships can work wonders in cementing your bond despite the ups and downs. However, it is not something that can be achieved overnight. It takes work and a conscious effort to admit mistakes, put your partner first and commit to total transparency. When you achieve, the results can be magical for conflict resolution in relationships.
Relationships aren’t easy. They require constant care and nurturing. Despite the flaws and differences, most relationships are worth the effort. So before you let you bond with partner wither away, give these conflict resolution strategies a chance.