Resolving Conflict in Relationships
This post was a submission by Joseph Rowe - Couples Counselor and Licensed Mental Health Counselor. See below for information on how to get scheduled with him for couples or individual work.
Conflict is an unavoidable part of relationships and if handled incorrectly, it can lead to tension, resentment, and even the dissolving of a relationship. Part of my work as a couple’s counselor is helping couples learn conflict resolution skills and how to put them into practice in their relationships. Here are some of the tips I regularly teach my clients:
Take some space – Taking space from conflict can seem counter-intuitive to resolving whatever the conflict is about. However, the point in briefly walking away from a conflict is to reduce the physiological arousal that happens during most conflicts. Things such as increased heart rate, flushing of the skin, and muscle tension are physical effects of engaging in conflict. Taking space can benefit a conflict by allowing both parties to cool down physically, and as a result, mentally and emotionally, allowing for a discussion when both parties are in a more calm and level-headed state. This can involve taking a short break or even setting a time with your partner to talk about the issue at a future time. The important point is that the discussion is not being avoided, but some time is being taken to address it in a calm and collected manner.
Physiological self-soothing – Research from the Gottman Institute shows that a frequent experience of physiological hyperarousal (fight-or-flight) leads to an expectation of negative experiences in future conflicts. Research has shown that taking even 15 to 20 minutes to focus on grounding, meditation, or deep breathing can reduce couples’ heart rates and physical signs of stress when returning to the previous discussion. Practicing other activities, such as a deep breathing exercise, focusing on another task, or thinking of a peaceful place have been shown to reduce stress. Finding something that relaxes or calms you after an intense experience of emotion can allow you to return to the discussion in a much calmer and relaxed state.
Being aware of nonverbal communication – a large part of our communication is nonverbal, and research has shown that up to 70% of the messages we send come from this nonverbal communication. Things such as posture, tone of voice, body language, and eye contact convey messages during our conversations that we might not be aware of. Even how close we stand to someone can influence how a conversation goes. It is important to work on self-awareness when communicating with others, including behaviors which might be perceived as aggressive or demeaning to others. Considering the type of environment that makes you and your partner comfortable during conflict and working on ways to create this environment can lead to much better outcomes during disagreements..
Practicing empathy towards the other person – One of the hardest parts about resolving conflict is considering the other person’s perspective on the situation. I like to reframe the idea of a conflict to a situation where two people have different ideas that they both feel are right. In this sense, understanding your partner’s argument can help to reduce stigma and judgment towards them as well as not making it a competition about who “wins” and who “loses.” Active listening is a great tool that can be used to hear and understand what your partner is attempting to communicate. Results from a 2019 study shows that empathy is associated with more favorable attitudes and higher readiness for reconciliation across a range of intergroup settings, which applies to conflict in interpersonal relationships.
Conflict is never fun to deal with but navigating conflict is an essential component to developing healthy and open interpersonal relationships. Following these steps can help you to navigate conflict with your partner and create an environment in which both people feel heard and understood. Differences are bound to come up in relationships and with tools for navigating conflict, they can be handled in productive ways that eventually strengthen connection and bonds with others.
Joseph Rowe is a Couples Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Florida. He has been a Therapist for over 6 years and has experience in working with anxiety, depression, relationship issues, PTSD, and self-esteem. Joseph offers virtual sessions and in-person sessions at our office in the Carrollwood area of Tampa. To schedule an appointment to work with Joseph for individual or couples work, you can click here to schedule online, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 813-515-9602.