Steps for Resolving Relationship Conflict

by Pam Nettles, LPC

Studies on relationships have shown that it is not the number of arguments (fights, miscommunications) that a couple has or does not have that is a predictor of the success or failure of the relationship, but what they do with those times of conflict.  Times of conflict, if handled properly, can be a time of growth for a couple and deeper understanding of your partner.  Conversely, not “fighting” is often a sign of avoiding issues that should be discussed and resolved.  Over time resentment can grow or partners can withdraw from each other.

When resolving conflict first remember you are both on the same team.  A team mentality avoids competition and unhelpful attacking of your partner.  The goal is to attack the problem, not the person.  Take time to pray that God will soften your hearts and direct your discussion.

During times of conflict make sure that all physical needs are taken care of before embarking on conversation.  If you are tired, hungry, not feeling well, or stressed about something else, delay discussion until you take care of these needs.  Communicate these needs clearly to your partner and reassure them that you want to resume conversation once these needs are met.

Define the problem.  What is the issue at hand?  Be specific and present.  During times of conflict it is very easy to become “historical” and throw out a litany of past offenses.  Ask yourselves how you each contribute to the problem without becoming defensive (remember the team mentality).  When discussing, it is helpful to let your partner know your feelings and any background information that would help them learn more about why you feel this way.

Define a solution.  Once the problem has been clearly identified discuss ways to solve the issue.  What has worked in the past? What has not worked?  What part will you each contribute to the solution?

Provide accountability that the problem is being resolved.  Set up another time to meet to discuss progress.  Make any necessary adjustments to ensure problems aren’t being “swept under the rug”.  

If necessary during any part of the discussion, take a time-out. Discuss before times of conflict what this will look like in your relationship.  Establish a phrase that signifies you need a break (take 10, time-out, etc).  A time-out is not to be used to avoid an issue.  Identify the time you need to de-escalate, take care of your needs, reassure your partner, and when you can, resume the conversation.  When taking a time-out don’t use this time to ruminate on your anger.  Ask yourself, Why is the issue bothering me?, Where is my partner coming from?, What is the best solution for our relationship?

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. “(Proverbs 15:18, New International Version)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. ”  (Romans 12:17-18) 

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  (Colossians 3:13-14)


Pam Nettles, LPC
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