9 Productive Ways for Couples to Confront Conflict.
Written By: Hannah Whiddon, LMSW
1. Take a break.
If you can’t stay calm, take a break from the argument. When things get heated, we’re more likely to say things that will hurt our partners. Disagreements and misunderstandings are difficult enough to overcome without inflicting emotional wounds.
2. Check yourself.
To keep it simple: you are responsible for your emotions. Getting to know yourself—both your triggers and your ‘safe spaces’—will help you to have more control over your reactions. Typically, we are offended or reactive to our partners because they have triggered in us a threat response. We may be reacting because they have reminded us of an insecurity, unresolved trauma, or another time when we felt threatened. Evaluate the situation: what did my partner’s words or actions remind me of? Was my partner intentionally trying to trigger me? What do I need to feel better? How do I ask for what I need? The best time to revisit your conflict is after you have answered these questions for yourself.
3. Get Vulnerable
Once you understand how you feel and what you need, open up to your partner. If you are sad that you are fighting, tell them. If you are feeling anxious or worried, tell them. It is easy to yell at someone yelling at you. Or criticize someone who is criticizing you. And in the same way, it is easier to be gentle and vulnerable with someone who is being vulnerable with you. Conflict can be a great opportunity to learn more about each other. Information that may, in the future, help your partner to better support you.
4. Avoid criticism.
Most of us have experienced criticism whether it be from our parents or past partners. You do not want to take that role in your partner’s life. Criticism will escalate rather than de-escalate a conflict.
5. Ask questions.
When something does not make sense to you or you are offended, ask a clarifying question. Rather than fill in the blanks and quickly react, get more information. Most of the time, arguments start with a simple misunderstanding. Once things get emotional, neither partner is thinking logically—both in how we verbalize our thoughts and in how we understand what our partner is saying.
6. Don’t trust your memory.
Your memory does not work like a video camera. You can’t hit the replay button to see who fouled first. When a conflict devolves into accusations of who said what, it is no longer productive. Odds are, you’re both wrong.
7. Don’t try to win.
When it comes to arguments: if you’re trying to win, you will both lose. It’s not you against your partner. It’s you and your partner against the problem.
8. Treat the relationship as if it is sacred
Conflict is inevitable. Relationships can survive conflict. Relationships cannot survive instability and insecurity. If one or both of you repeatedly threatens to break-up during conflict, the relationship will feel unsafe and expendable. The relationship is bigger and more important than this one fight.
9. Go to bed angry.
There is no good time to fight, but there are bad times. Some examples of bad times to fight are when we are rushing out the door, hungry or TIRED. Conflict will always be more productive when we are less emotional. If that means you need to revisit the conversation after a good night’s sleep, so be it.
*These tips are meant to support healthy couples to have more productive conflict. These tips will not be helpful for individuals in abusive relationships. If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, reach out for help.