Conflict Resolution Skills for Healthy Relationships

  1. Relationship skills and tips on how to manage — RISD
  2. Self-help Resources
  3. Conflict Resolution in Relationships
  4. Conflict in Intimate Relationships
  5. Common types of conflicts within a relationship:
  6. The Negatives of Conflict
  7. The Positives of Conflict
  8. Healthy Ways to Resolve a Conflict in a Relationship
  9. Unproductive Ways to Try Resolving a Conflict in a Relationship
  10. Why It’s Important to Resolve Conflicts
  11. Conflict Resolution Skills —
  12. Causes of conflict in a relationship
  13. How do you respond to conflict?
  14. Conflict resolution, stress, and emotions
  15. Core skill 1: Quick stress relief
  16. How stress affects conflict resolution
  17. Is stress a problem for you?
  18. Core skill 2: Emotional awareness
  19. Why emotional awareness is a key factor in resolving conflict
  20. Assessing your level of emotional awareness
  21. Nonverbal communication and conflict resolution
  22. More tips for managing and resolving conflict
  23. Using humor in conflict resolution
  24. 7 Tips for Handling Conflict In Your Relationship
  25. 1. Create a welcoming environment for open communication
  26. 2. Maintain a calm and respectful demeanor during heated conversations
  27. 3. Get to the root of the problem
  28. 4. Watch out for arguments that stem from a need for control
  29. 5. Find some middle-ground
  30. 6. Agree to disagree and choose your battles
  31. 7. Consider if the issue is resolvable or not
  32. 10 Tips for Solving Relationship Conflicts
  33. 1. Be direct.
  34. 2. Talk about how you feel without blaming your partner
  35. 3. Never say never (or «always»)
  36. 4. Pick your battles
  37. 5. Really listen to your partner
  38. 6. Don't automatically object to your partner’s complaints
  39. 7. Take a different perspective
  40. 8. Do not show contempt for your partner
  41. 9. Don't get overwhelmed with negativity
  42. 10. Know when it's time for a time-out
  43. Cities:

Relationship skills and tips on how to manage — RISD

Conflict Resolution Skills for Healthy Relationships

Relationships, right? Complicated. Among all the other things college students are learning, they are learning how to independently interact with others, manage their social lives, get along with roommates, and navigate sexual relationships. Part of all of those things are basic relational skills negotiation, boundary-setting, and conflict resolution.

Different people have different needs, and forming any type of relationship involves figuring out how to get both people’s needs met as much of the time as is possible. Deciding how much one is willing to sacrifice, avoiding over-sacrificing and becoming resentful, and balancing the effort and investment of all parties requires ongoing negotiation.

Some negotiation skills include:

  • Self-awareness about what is crucial to your own happiness and comfort, and what is optional
  • Willingness to compromise about the optional things
  • Openness to hearing the other person’s needs and wants
  • Problem-solving and offering creative ways to meet others’ needs
  • Tolerance of discomfort
  • Be clear and specific about what you’re asking for or agreeing to (“I will text you at least one hour in advance if I am bringing someone to our room;” “I would each of us to sweep the floor two times per month”)
  • Willingness to advocate for one’s self
  • Focus on negotiating behaviors (cleaning the bathroom once a week, turning off music at midnight) rather than attitudes (don’t be mad at me, stop liking rap music)
  • Avoid accusing or insulting the other person
  • Cooperate to solve the problems; don’t make the other person your opponent

Living in close proximity with others inevitably leads to conflict. It’s also important to be aware that a discussion may feel conflict to you, and feel simple negotiation for another person, or vice versa.

When tempers flare or needs conflict with each other, conflict resolution skills are needed:

  • negotiation, openness, curiosity, and good listening are crucial to resolving conflict
  • Try to resolve conflicts when everyone is relatively calm – it’s okay to take a break if emotions are running too high
  • If you agree to take a break and resume the discussion later, take the initiative and bring it up again when you feel calm
  • Use “I” statements to avoid accusations and hurt feelings. “I need an orderly environment to feel creative, and I want to find a way we can work on that” goes over a lot better than “You’re such a slob, you never clean up after yourself”
  • The goal of conflict resolution is everyone feeling heard and trust being repaired. Keep the goal in mind as you decide what to say and how to say it
  • When someone feels hurt by you (which often manifests as anger), try to focus on resolving their pain. Even if you feel defensive and want to explain your intentions, try to make that secondary to attending to the damage. If you accidentally bump into someone and they fall down the stairs, it’s far more important to do first aid than it is to make sure they know you didn’t knock them over on purpose.

Finally, good boundaries are key to healthy relationships.

Personal boundaries are guidelines or limits that you create in order to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to act toward you, and how you respond when someone crosses those lines.

Identifying our own boundaries takes time, considerable thought, and often some trial and error to see what feels comfortable for us and what doesn’t. Steps to identify, set, and maintain good boundaries:

  • Pay attention to your own emotional responses to events and consider what situations make you feel unsafe, stressed, or hurt
  • You have the right to set any boundary you feel is necessary; other people do not have to agree with it. That said, considering what feels reasonable to ask of others might reduce conflict in your life and widen your tolerance for people different from you.
  • Identify your boundaries (I don’t answer the phone after 11, I don’t want to feel pressured to drink, I don’t have sex without protection, I expect others to speak calmly and not yell during conflicts, etc.)
  • Be direct and clear when communicating your boundaries to others. You do not need to give a reason or defend yourself. If others object, just say “I prefer [boundary] in my relationships, and I need you to respect that if you want a relationship with me.”
  • Prioritize your own needs and comfort over others’ discomfort with your boundaries. It is okay if they feel rejected in order for you to feel safe.
  • Enforce your boundaries consistently. Once you’ve set a limit, that’s the limit.
  • If you’re uncomfortable setting boundaries, try something small at first. Learning to identify and communicate boundaries is a skill that takes practice.

Self-help Resources


Conflict Resolution in Relationships

Conflict Resolution Skills for Healthy Relationships

“Conflicts are opportunities for you and your partner to align on values and outcomes. They are chances to understand, appreciate, and embrace differences.” – Tony Robbins

Conflict. It’s a term we are all familiar with but do we really understand the depths, the consequences, and even the benefits of dealing with a conflict? It seems obvious that when we define the word conflict, we assume it is the disagreement or differing opinions that can cause a rift between two parties.

Oftentimes, the reasoning behind a conflict can be a build-up of issues and emotions, which can lead to passive-aggressiveness due to a lack of communication that is released at one time. Other times, a conflict may come up suddenly due to an acute scenario that can spark a dramatic reaction. Either way, conflict is universal and we all cross paths with it.

Thus, it is important to find healthy ways of managing our emotions to promote a positive outcome.

Conflict in Intimate Relationships

It is one thing to have a conflict in the workplace, among friends, or with extended family, because at the end of the day you can disconnect and come home to a space that is your own, away from the drama and emotions.

However, it is another thing to have a conflict in your relationship with your partner; especially if you live together.

Much of this struggle has to do with the fact that at the end of the day, you must come home to the stress and anxiety of being in your home with someone you are not seeing eye to eye with. Although this is unfortunate and uncomfortable, it is quite common.

Common types of conflicts within a relationship:

    • Financial issues
    • Choices and decisions regarding raising your children
    • Work-life balance
    • Disapproval of friends and social life outside of the family
    • Disapproval of bad habits
    • Jealousy
    • Trust and/or dishonesty
    • Lifestyle choices
    • Where to live

The Negatives of Conflict

Arguments and long-standing conflicts tend to get a bad rap. Especially if a couple tends to argue frequently. Some of the reasons why conflicts can receive a negative reputation within relationships include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • Anxiety about the future of the relationship
    • Saying or doing something you don’t mean due to a heightened emotional state
    • What this means about you as a person
    • What this means about your partner as a person
    • How relationship problems can affect other aspects of your life
      • Work
      • Social life
      • Mental health
      • Physical health
    • Development of unhealthy coping habits
      • Addiction
      • Eating disorders
      • Cheating
    • Depression
    • Can lead to domestic abuse
      • Physical
      • Verbal
      • Emotional
      • Mental

The Positives of Conflict

On a brighter note, conflict can have a positive effect on relationships and even on personal growth.

“In fact, an online study, ‘Able Arguers’, among 976 individuals in 2012 found that couples who engage in healthy conflict are 10 times more ly to have a happy relationship versus those who ignore difficult conversations”, according to David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny who conducted the online study ( Some of the positives that may come from conflict resolution in a relationship include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • Improved communication skills
    • Improved listening skills
    • Reciprocal appreciation for each other’s opinions
    • Strengthens the relationship
    • Strength in knowing you can overcome adversity together
    • Allows you to voice your opinion and not feel you are being silenced
    • Can help prevent a break-up or divorce
    • Signals a need for change within the relationship
    • Opens up your eyes to new perspectives and ideas
    • Promotes flexibility
    • Promotes compromise
    • Can lead to solutions, often creative ones that you can come up with together
    • Practice of emotional control
    • Allows each of you to be both independent and interdependent
    • Shared problem solving

Healthy Ways to Resolve a Conflict in a Relationship

  1. Be open to listening to your partner, just as you want to be listened to
  2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes
  3. Seek professional help
  1. Accept that you can agree to disagree
    • You are both allowed to have your own opinions
  1. Manage issues as they come up
  2. Pick and choose your battles
  3. Turn your “I” perspective into a “We” perspective
  4. Take a break from the conversation if necessary to calm down your emotions

Unproductive Ways to Try Resolving a Conflict in a Relationship

  1. Don’t have the conversation when you are tired
  2. Don’t have the conversation when you are under the influence
  3. Don’t involve other people
  4. Don’t compare your relationship to other relationships
  5. Don’t compare your issues to other couple’s issues
  6. Don’t judge your partner’s perspective
  7. Don’t bring up the past or harp on previous issues or conversations
  8. Don’t give an ultimatum
  9. Don’t ignore meaningful issues which could lead to passive aggression

Why It’s Important to Resolve Conflicts

If conflicts are ignored, it can lead to long-lasting problems which can build up over time and may ultimately end in the termination of a relationship.

If children are involved, this can be especially challenging for everyone involved.

Hence, it is essential to be able to resolve conflicts in order to overcome the issues, strengthen the relationship, and grow both as a couple and an individual.



Conflict Resolution Skills —

Conflict Resolution Skills for Healthy Relationships

Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship. After all, two people can’t be expected to agree on everything, all the time. The key is not to fear or try to avoid conflict but to learn how to resolve it in a healthy way.

When conflict is mismanaged, it can cause great harm to a relationship, but when handled in a respectful, positive way, conflict provides an opportunity to strengthen the bond between two people. Whether you’re experiencing conflict at home, work, or school, learning these skills can help you resolve differences in a healthy way and build stronger, more rewarding relationships.

Causes of conflict in a relationship

Conflict arises from differences, both large and small. It occurs whenever people disagree over their values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires.

Sometimes these differences appear trivial, but when a conflict triggers strong feelings, a deep personal need is often at the core of the problem.

These needs can range from the need to feel safe and secure or respected and valued, to the need for greater closeness and intimacy.

Think about the opposing needs of a toddler and a parent. The child’s need is to explore, so venturing to the street or the cliff edge meets that need. But the parent’s need is to protect the child’s safety, a need that can only be met by limiting the toddler’s exploration. Since these needs are at odds, conflict arises.

The needs of each party play an important role in the long-term success of a relationships. Each deserves respect and consideration. In personal relationships, a lack of understanding about differing needs can result in distance, arguments, and break-ups. In the workplace, differing needs can result in broken deals, decreased profits, and lost jobs.

[Read: Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship]

When you can recognize conflicting needs and are willing to examine them with compassion and understanding, it can lead to creative problem solving, team building, and stronger relationships.

How do you respond to conflict?

Do you fear conflict or avoid it at all costs? If your perception of conflict comes from painful memories from early childhood or previous unhealthy relationships, you may expect all disagreements to end badly. You may view conflict as demoralizing, humiliating, or something to fear. If your early life experiences left you feeling powerless or control, conflict may even be traumatizing for you.

If you’re afraid of conflict, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you enter a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the problem at hand in a healthy way. Instead, you’re more ly to either shut down or blow up in anger.

Healthy and unhealthy ways of managing and resolving conflict
Unhealthy responses to conflict:Healthy responses to conflict:
An inability to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person.The capacity to empathize with the other person’s viewpoint.
Explosive, angry, hurtful, and resentful reactions.Calm, non-defensive, and respectful reactions.
The withdrawal of love, resulting in rejection, isolation, shaming, and fear of abandonment.A readiness to forgive and forget, and to move past the conflict without holding resentments or anger.
An inability to compromise or see the other person’s side.The ability to seek compromise and avoid punishing.
Feeling fearful or avoiding conflict; expecting a bad outcome.A belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides.

Conflict resolution, stress, and emotions

Conflict triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment, and discomfort. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable rifts, resentments, and break-ups. But when conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens your relationships.

If you are touch with your feelings or so stressed that you can only pay attention to a limited number of emotions, you won’t be able to understand your own needs.

This will make it hard to communicate with others and establish what’s really troubling you.

For example, couples often argue about petty differences—the way she hangs the towels, the way he slurps his soup—rather than what is really bothering them.

To successfully resolve a conflict, you need to learn and practice two core skills:

  1. Quick stress relief: the ability to quickly relieve stress in the moment.
  2. Emotional awareness: the ability to remain comfortable enough with your emotions to react in constructive ways, even in the midst of a perceived attack.

Core skill 1: Quick stress relief

Being able to manage and relieve stress in the moment is the key to staying balanced, focused, and in control, no matter what challenges you face. If you don’t know how to stay centered and in control of yourself, you will become overwhelmed in conflict situations and unable to respond in healthy ways.

Psychologist Connie Lillas uses a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress:

Foot on the gas. An angry or agitated stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.

Foot on the brake. A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.

Foot on both gas and brake. A tense and frozen stress response. You “freeze” under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralyzed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.

How stress affects conflict resolution

Stress interferes with the ability to resolve conflict by limiting your ability to:

  • Accurately read another person’s body language.
  • Hear what someone is really saying.
  • Be aware of your own feelings.
  • Be in touch with your own, deep-rooted needs.
  • Communicate your needs clearly.

Is stress a problem for you?

You may be so used to felling stressed that you’re not even aware you are stressed. Stress may pose a problem in your life if you identify with the following:

  • You often feel tense or tight somewhere in your body.
  • You’re not aware of movement in your chest or stomach when you breathe.
  • Conflict absorbs your time and attention.

Core skill 2: Emotional awareness

Emotional awareness is the key to understanding yourself and others. If you don’t know how or why you feel a certain way, you won’t be able to communicate effectively or resolve disagreements.

[Read: Improving Emotional Intelligence]

Although knowing your own feelings may sound simple, many people ignore or try to sedate strong emotions anger, sadness, and fear. Your ability to handle conflict, however, depends on being connected to these feelings. If you’re afraid of strong emotions or if you insist on finding solutions that are strictly rational, your ability to face and resolve differences will be limited.

Why emotional awareness is a key factor in resolving conflict

Emotional awareness—the consciousness of your moment-to-moment emotional experience—and the ability to manage all of your feelings appropriately, is the basis of a communication process that can resolve conflict.

Emotional awareness helps you to:

  • Understand what is really troubling other people
  • Understand yourself, including what is really troubling you
  • Stay motivated until the conflict is resolved
  • Communicate clearly and effectively
  • Interest and influence others

Assessing your level of emotional awareness

The following quiz helps you assess your level of emotional awareness. Answer the following questions with: almost never, occasionally, often, very often, or almost always. There are no right or wrong responses, only the opportunity to become better acquainted with your emotional responses.

Nonverbal communication and conflict resolution

When people are in the middle of a conflict, the words they use rarely convey the issues at the heart of the problem.

But by paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals or “body language,” such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice, you can better understand what the person is really saying.

This will allow you to respond in a way that builds trust, and gets to the root of the problem.

[Read: Nonverbal Communication and Body Language]

Your ability to accurately read another person depends on your own emotional awareness. The more aware you are of your own emotions, the easier it will be for you to pick up on the wordless clues that reveal what others are feeling.

Think about what you are transmitting to others during conflict, and if what you say matches your body language. If you say “I’m fine,” but you clench your teeth and look away, then your body is clearly signaling you are anything but “fine.

” A calm tone of voice, a reassuring touch, or an interested facial expression can go a long way toward relaxing a tense exchange.

More tips for managing and resolving conflict

You can ensure that the process of managing and resolving conflict is as positive as possible by sticking to the following guidelines:

Listen for what is felt as well as said. When you really listen, you connect more deeply to your own needs and emotions, and to those of other people. Listening also strengthens, informs, and makes it easier for others to hear you when it’s your turn to speak.

Make conflict resolution the priority rather than winning or “being right.” Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Be respectful of the other person and their viewpoint.

Focus on the present. If you’re holding on to grudges past conflicts, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the here-and-now to solve the problem.

Pick your battles. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worth your time and energy. Maybe you don’t want to surrender a parking space if you’ve been circling for 15 minutes, but if there are dozens of empty spots, arguing over a single space isn’t worth it.

Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive others. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can serve only to deplete and drain your life.

Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.

Using humor in conflict resolution

You can avoid many confrontations and resolve arguments and disagreements by communicating in a humorous way. Humor can help you say things that might otherwise be difficult to express withfending someone.

However, it’s important that you laugh with the other person, not at them.

When humor and play are used to reduce tension and anger, reframe problems, and put the situation into perspective, the conflict can actually become an opportunity for greater connection and intimacy.

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Melinda Smith, M.A.

Last updated: October 2020


7 Tips for Handling Conflict In Your Relationship

Conflict Resolution Skills for Healthy Relationships

Disagreements happen in all relationships, but what matters is how they are dealt with. The way you deal with an issue with your partner can determine if your relationship is healthy or unhealthy, so here are some tips to keep in mind that will help you handle your next argument in a healthy way.

1. Create a welcoming environment for open communication

In a healthy relationship, you and your partner can communicate openly about what is bothering you and what is going well in the relationship. It’s important to not only talk about the problems in the relationship, but also the positives so no one feels they are doing everything wrong.

If you feel you can’t talk openly about important things, life issues, money, aspirations, and anything big picture that scares or matters to you, then that is a sign that your relationship may be unhealthy.

If you can’t express your feelings without fear of retaliation from your partner or them getting overly upset and defensive, then you may be in an abusive relationship.

2. Maintain a calm and respectful demeanor during heated conversations

Don’t cross lines and start insulting your partner. Keep the focus of the dispute on the issue at hand and don’t bring personal jibes and put-downs into it.

Also, if your partner consistently gets very heated, aggressive or starts cursing, then those are signs that your relationship may be abusive.

No matter what caused the argument, no one should yell at you, curse, or otherwise make you feel uncomfortable and/or scared when you are arguing. You should never feel you are being attacked or need to tread carefully to not make your partner any angrier.

3. Get to the root of the problem

Sometimes when you argue with your partner it is because someone’s needs are not being met. If it seems your partner is sweating the small stuff, take a moment to evaluate whether there is a larger issue at hand.

For instance, if your partner is upset that you are partying in the middle of the week, they might want you to designate more time for your relationship or be worried about you keeping your grades up.

Consider things from your partner’s point of view and put yourself in their shoes – how would you feel if the roles were reversed? Be understanding of your partner instead of just trying to push your point across.

Sometimes when you argue with your partner it is because someone’s needs are not being met.Click To Tweet

4. Watch out for arguments that stem from a need for control

If you feel your partner may be trying to control what you do, then that is a BIG red flag.

If your partner is mad that you text other people, doesn’t you prioritizing school and responsibilities over them, pressures you to hook up with them, or tries to limit the time you spend with friends, then those are signs that your partner may be trying to control you.

Even if they try to rationalize it by saying they “I’m just over-protective,” “it’s my trust issues,” or it’s “because I love you,” no one should ever try to control you, especially not your partner. If any of these behaviors sound familiar, your relationship may be abusive and you should seek help.

5. Find some middle-ground

Finding a balance between what both partners want and are comfortable with is very important. If you both care about making the relationship work you will come to an agreement on things without feeling you are making huge sacrifices for your relationship.

Compromising is a key way to resolve conflicts, and finding a middle-ground might be easier than you think! If you are arguing about spending time with your friends or your partner’s friends, alternate days to spend time with each friend group or do your own thing for a night.

If you feel your partner is always eating all of your food, ask them to chip in the next time you go grocery shopping.

6. Agree to disagree and choose your battles

Sometimes we need to consider whether what we are fighting about is really worth arguing over.

Is it just a matter of what to eat for dinner? Sharing the covers? What your next Netflix binge should be? If the problem is small, sometimes it’s best to just drop it.  If you won’t be mad about it next week, then it’s probably not worth your energy.

You won’t agree with your partner on absolutely everything, and if you feel the issue is too big to drop then you should contemplate if you and your partner are really compatible.

7. Consider if the issue is resolvable or not

Sometimes we argue with our partner about something that is REALLY big and impacts our lives – transferring schools, if you do or don’t want kids, and where to live when you graduate.

If you feel you will need to sacrifice your beliefs, morals, or dreams to make the relationship work, then you should think about whether this relationship is really worth staying in. For a relationship to succeed, you and your partner should see eye-to-eye on the bigger picture.

Having aligned goals, dreams, values, and beliefs is a major part of being compatible with someone.

For a relationship to succeed, you and your partner should see eye-to-eye on the bigger picture.Click To Tweet

If you keep these tips in mind during your next argument, you’ll be sure to handle your future conflicts in a healthy and constructive way.

No one wants to be Noah and Allie from The Notebook – never agreeing on anything and fighting all the time – even if it means you get to turn into birds together in the end.

Constant arguing, overly-heated battles, and fights that spiral control are all signs of an unhealthy relationship. If you or someone you know may be in an unhealthy relationship, here is what you can do to help them.

For more tips on having a good relationship (#goals), you can check out the 5 Essentials to a Healthy Relationship.

The best way to help a friend, family or loved one is to talk about it. Use our conversation starters and this article to get the people in your life talking.[/vc_column][/vc_row]


10 Tips for Solving Relationship Conflicts

Conflict Resolution Skills for Healthy Relationships

  • Conflicts can improve your relationship if handled correctly.
  • Be direct, but don’t blame your partner for problems or be overly negative.
  • Try techniques to really listen to your partner.
  • Trying taking an outside, objective perspective on your relationship problems.

Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

As anyone who has been in a romantic relationship knows, disagreements and fights are inevitable.

When two people spend a lot of time together, with their lives intertwined, they are bound to disagree from time to time.

These disagreements can be big or small, ranging from what to eat for dinner or failing to complete a chore to arguments about whether the couple should move for one partner’s career or deciding on children’s religious upbringing.

The mere fact that you fight with your partner isn't a sign there is real trouble in your relationship. In fact, when handled properly, fighting can improve your relationship. If you never fight and never talk about your problems, you will never solve them.

By dealing with conflicts constructively, you can gain a better understanding of your partner and arrive at a solution that works for both of you. On the other hand, it is also possible for conflicts to escalate and create ill will without resolving anything.

How can you improve the odds of a successful resolution to the conflicts in your relationship? Here are 10 research-backed tips:

1. Be direct.

Sometimes people don't just come out and plainly state what is bothering them, and instead choose more indirect ways of expressing their displeasure.1 One partner may speak to the other in a way that is condescending and implies underlying hostility. Other times, partners may mope and pout without really addressing an issue.

Partners may also simply avoid discussing a problem by quickly switching topics when the issue comes up or by being evasive. Such indirect ways of expressing anger are not constructive, because they don't give the person who is the target of the behaviors a clear idea of how to respond.

2 They know their partner is irritated, but the lack of directness leaves them without guidance about what they can do to solve the problem.

2. Talk about how you feel without blaming your partner

Statements that directly assault your partner’s character can be especially damaging to a relationship.3 If a man frustrated by his girlfriend's jealousy says «You’re totally irrational!» he is inviting her to become defensive, and this can shut down further conversation. A more constructive strategy is to use «I statements» and pair them with «behavior descriptions.

«4I statements focus on how you feel, without blaming your partner, and behavior descriptions focus on a specific behavior your partner is engaging in, rather than a character flaw. For example, this man might say, «I get irritated when you claim I'm flirting with someone during an innocent conversation.

» These tactics are direct, but don't impugn your partner's character.

However, it should be noted that these direct negative tactics can be constructive — in some situations.

Research has shown that for couples with relatively minor problems, blaming and rejecting one's partner during a conflict discussion was associated with lower relationship satisfaction over time and tended to make problems worse.

For couples with major problems, a different picture emerged: Blaming and rejecting behaviors resulted in less satisfaction immediately following the conflict discussion, but over the long term, the problems improved, and this led to increases in relationship satisfaction.5

3. Never say never (or «always»)

When you’re addressing a problem, you should avoid making generalizations about your partner. Statements «You never help out around the house,» or, «You're always staring at your cell phone» are ly to make your partner defensive.

Rather than prompting a discussion about how your partner could be more helpful or attentive, this strategy is ly to lead your partner to start generating counterexamples of all the times they were, in fact, helpful or attentive.

Again, you don’t want to put your partner on the defensive.3

4. Pick your battles

If you want to have a constructive discussion, you need to stick to one issue at a time. Unhappy couples are ly to drag multiple topics into one discussion, a habit renowned conflict researcher John Gottman calls «kitchen-sinking.

«3 This refers to the old expression «everything but the kitchen sink,» which implies that every possible thing has been included. When you want to solve personal problems, this is probably not the strategy you take with yourself. Imagine that you wanted to think about how to incorporate more physical exercise into your daily routine.

You would probably not decide that this would also be a great time to think about how to save more money for retirement, organize your closet, and figure out how to deal with an awkward situation at work. You would try to solve these problems one at a time.

This seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment, a fight about one topic can turn into a complaining session, with both partners trading gripes. The more complaints you raise, the less ly it is that any will actually get fully discussed and resolved.

5. Really listen to your partner

It can be very frustrating to feel your partner is not paying attention to you.

When you interrupt your partner or assume that you know what they're thinking, you're not giving them a chance to express themselves.

Even if you are confident that you know where your partner is coming from or know what they're going to say, you could still be wrong, and your partner will still feel you’re not listening.6

You can show your partner that you're paying attention by using active listening techniques.7 When your partner speaks, paraphrase what they say — that is, rephrase it in your own words. This can prevent misunderstandings before they start.

You can also perception-check, by making sure that you're interpreting your partner's reactions correctly.

For example, «You seem irritated by that comment — Am I right?» These strategies both prevent misunderstandings and show your partner that you're paying attention to them and care about what they're saying.

6. Don't automatically object to your partner’s complaints

When you're criticized, it's hard not to get defensive. But defensiveness doesn't solve problems. Imagine a couple arguing because the wife wants her husband to do more chores around the house.

When she suggests that he do a quick clean-up after he gets ready to leave in the morning, he says, «Yes, that would help, but I really don't have time in the morning.

» When she suggests that he set aside some time on the weekend, he says «Yes, that could be a way to schedule it in, but we usually have plans on weekends, and I have work to catch up on, so that won't work.» This «yes-butting» behavior suggests that her ideas and views are not worthwhile.

Another destructive, defensive behavior is «cross-complaining,» when you respond to your partner's complaint with one of your own. For example, responding to «You don’t clean up enough around the house» with «You’re a neat freak.» It's important to hear your partner out and really consider what they're saying.3

7. Take a different perspective

In addition to listening to your partner, you need to take their perspective and try to understand where they're coming from. Those who can take their partner's perspective are less ly to become angry during a conflict discussion.8

Other research has shown that taking a more objective perspective can also be helpful.

In one study, researchers staged a simple marital quality intervention, asking participants to write about a specific disagreement they had with their partners from the perspective of a neutral third party who wanted the best for both members of the couple.

Couples that engaged in this 20-minute writing exercise three times a year maintained stable levels of marital satisfaction over the course of the year, while couples who didn’t showed declines in satisfaction.9

8. Do not show contempt for your partner

Of all of the negative things you can do and say during a conflict, the worst may be contempt. Gottman has found that it is the top predictor of divorce.

3 Contemptuous remarks are those that belittle your partner. This can involve sarcasm and name-calling. It can also include nonverbal behavior rolling your eyes or smirking.

Such behavior is extremely disrespectful, and implies that you're disgusted with your partner.

Imagine that one partner says, «I wish you took me out more,» and the other responds, «Oh yes, the most important thing is to see and be seen and overpay for tiny portions of food at some rip-off restaurant.

Could you be more superficial?» Or one partner says they're too tired to clean up, and the other responds, «I'm sure you're sooo exhausted after a long day of chatting at the water cooler. I've been busting my butt all day, and you just get home and sprawl out on the couch, staring at your smartphone a teenager.

» This kind of contempt makes it impossible to engage in a real discussion and is ly to elicit anger from your partner, rather than an attempt to solve the problem.

9. Don't get overwhelmed with negativity

It can be hard not to respond to a partner's bad behavior with even more bad behavior. But indulging that urge will only make the conflict worse. When couples engage in what Gottman and his colleagues calls «negative affect reciprocity,» they trade more and more heated insults and contemptuous remarks.

10 And as the conflict goes on, the negativity escalates. So how much is too much negativity? In his research, Gottman found that the magic number is a 5 to 1 ratio: Couples that maintained a ratio of five positive behaviors (e.g.

, attempts at good-natured humor, warmth, collaboration) to each negative behavior were significantly less ly to be divorced or separated four years later.11

10. Know when it's time for a time-out

If you see yourself falling into negative patterns and find that either you or your partner are not following the tips above, consider taking a time out from your argument. Even a short break for a few deep breaths can be enough to calm hot tempers.12

What the research on conflict shows is that both perspective taking and controlling your anger are key to managing conflicts well. Airing your grievances can be productive for your relationship, but conflicts must be skillfully managed or you run the risk of making them worse.

I am an associate professor of psychology at Albright College; follow me on for updates about social psychology, relationships, and online behavior.


1 Canary, D. J., & Lakey, S. (2013). Strategic conflict. New York: Routledge.

2 Overall, N. C., Fletcher, G. J. O., Simpson, J. A., & Sibley, C. G. (2009). Regulating partners in intimate relationships: The costs and benefits of different communication strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 620-639.

3 Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

4 Fraenkel, P. & Markman, H. J. (2002). Prevention of marital disorders. In D. S. Glenwick & L. A. Jason (Eds.), Innovative strategies for promoting health and mental health across the lifespan (pp. 245-271). New York: Springer.

5 McNulty, J. & Russell, V. M. (2010). When «negative» behaviors are positive: A contextual analysis of the long-term effects of problem-solving behaviors on changes in relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 587-604.

6 Daigen, V. & Holmes, J. G. (2000). Don’t interrupt! A good rule for marriage? Personal Relationships, 7, 185-201.

7 Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. M (1994). Fighting for your marriage: Positive steps for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

8 Arriaga, X. B., & Rusbult, C. E. (1998). Standing in my partner’s shoes: Partner perspective taking and reactions to accommodative dilemmas. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 927–948.

9 Finkel, E. J., Slotter, E. B., Luchies, L. B., Walton, G. M., & Gross, J. J. (2013). A brief intervention to promote conflict reappraisal preserves marital quality over time. Psychological Science, 24, 1595–1601.

10 Levenson, R. W., Carstensen, L. L., & Gottman, J. M. (1994). Influence of age and gender on affect, physiology, and their interrelations: A study of long-term marriages. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(1), 56-68.

11 Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(2), 221-233.

12 Tavris, C. (1989). Anger: The misunderstood emotion. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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