The Definitive Guide to Relationship Conflict [Part 1]

Thu Aug 24 2023

Ah, love—the stuff of poetry, songs, and late-night talks. But as we know, love isn't always a bed of roses. Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship. The question isn't if you'll fight but how, when, and what you will fight about. This guide aims to be your go-to resource for navigating relationship conflicts. We'll delve into common pitfalls, prevention tips, and practical steps to turn disagreements into opportunities for growth.

two Greek statues looking at each other.

The Importance of Conflict Management

Is Conflict bad? No

First things first, Conflict is necessarily a good thing. It has been said that Conflict is growth trying to happen. So try to frame it that way when you bump into it next time. It can be an opportunity for growth and understanding. However, how you manage Conflict can make or break your relationship. According to Dr. John Gottman, author of several successful relations books, says your conflict style can erode trust or build a stronger bond between you and your partner.

Gotman talks about

The Four Horsemen: Conflict Styles to Avoid

What are the Four Horsemen?

Dr. John Gottman talks about four common relationship pitfalls. He calls them the four horsemen. The four pitfalls are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. These pitfalls or tendencies can rip at the very fabric of your relationship if not addressed.

Criticism

Criticism involves attacking your partner’s character. Phrases like “You never help around here” or “Why can’t you be more thoughtful?” are examples of criticism.

Contempt

Contempt is when you’re disrespectful and purposely hurtful. This includes name-calling, mocking, and other harmful forms of communication.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness signals to your partner that their concerns don’t matter. It comes off as self-centered and dismissive.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling involves shutting down and refusing to engage with your partner. This can be a natural response to feeling overwhelmed but is harmful in the long run.

What are the antidotes?

the antidotes for the four horsemen
the antidotes for the Four Horsemen from the Gottman Institute

Now that we have identified some of the pitfalls. Let’s get into how to fight well.

The Art of Fighting Fair

Focus on the Issue, Not the Person

The issue is not your partner or the person you are fighting. The problem is how the situation is being handled. You and the person you are fighting with have a lot in common. Find the common ground and cast a vision for how both can be done. If the situation were handled differently, you would not be fighting.

Tony Robbins talks about the importance of focusing on resolving the issue rather than defending yourself. Where focus goes, energy flows. If you focus on where you don’t want your relationship to end up, you’ll find yourself there.

Effective Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of resolving disagreements. One couple in a coffee shop argued about going to dinner with friends. One partner said, “It’s never fun—you said so yourself last time,” while the other responded sarcastically. The other couple, however, communicated their feelings and found a compromise.

Turn Conflict into Opportunity

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

two Greek statues in a standoff.

Stonewalling?

Practical Steps for Conflict Resolution

Step 1: Self-Examination

Before diving into the Conflict, examine your focus. Are you focused on building a beautiful, passionate relationship, or are you focused on defending yourself? Your focus determines the direction of your relationship.

Step 2: Open Dialogue

Open and honest communication is crucial. Avoid blame games and focus on understanding each other’s perspectives.

Step 3: Seek to Understand

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Try to understand their feelings, needs, and viewpoints.

Step 4: Find Common Ground

Identify shared goals and values. This common ground will serve as the foundation for resolving the conflict.

Conclusion

Relationship conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be destructive. By understanding harmful conflict styles and adopting healthy communication strategies, you can turn disagreements into opportunities for growth. Remember, the goal isn’t to win the argument but to strengthen the relationship.

I hope this guide serves you well. Remember, the key to a strong relationship isn’t avoiding Conflict.

Footnotes/ References


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