The Key to Conflict Resolution in Relationships

How do you resolve conflict in a relationship?
on June 29, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Even in the most harmonious and healthy relationships, you’re bound to have an argument from time to time — big or small. 

While it’s normal to butt heads, research shows that unresolved conflict can damage your relationship bonds. Without conflict resolution in relationships, it opens the floodgates for resentment and insecurity — which can lead to the downfall of your love story. 

Even though the dramatic renditions of screaming arguments may be thrilling on TV — we think that energy should stay far away from your relationship. By advocating for healthy conflict resolution and learning key conflict management skills, you can avoid petty arguments and unnecessary break-ups. 

So where do we start? 

What is conflict resolution in relationships?

Conflict resolution in relationships is the process of addressing and resolving conflicts or disagreements which arise between partners. 

While conflict can stem from various sources, including differences in values, communication styles, expectations, or needs, they should be resolved fairly by both parties. 

Successful conflict resolution strategies rely on effective communication skills, with active listening and an open-minded approach. In order to deal with the situation in a healthy way, it’s important to take a deep breath and be mindful of your partner’s feelings — before you say something you don’t mean. 

What is the difference between constructive and destructive conflict? 

Destructive conflict comes from a place of attack, where both parties refuse to accept any viewpoint other than their own. With this destructive pattern, everything that is said only adds more fuel to the fire of the argument.

Both parties walk away from this kind of conflict even more frustrated than before. 

Constructive conflict comes from a place of emotional maturity, where both parties try to understand and respect the other’s point of view. While destructive conflict only serves to escalate the situation, constructive conflict works to find a resolution. 

Successful relationships rely on healthy conflict resolution, while unhealthy relationships often lapse into these destructive and toxic conflicts. 

Is conflict resolution important for healthy relationships? 

While relationship conflict is expected in most romantic pairings, it’s important to be able to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. So they don’t come back to haunt the relationship later. 

“This is a vital skill to be able to do in a healthy relationship to deep intimacy and to be able to work together as a team,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.

“You are two people with two different viewpoints, conflict is normal and will come up. The process of working through conflict helps you grow closer as you work to create a mutually beneficial relationship.” 

How to resolve conflict in a relationship

Healthy conflict in a relationship hinges on learning conflict resolution skills. It’s easy to be stubborn in the midst of difficult conversations, but you must be flexible to your partner’s point of view in order to make things work long-term.

“Embrace that conflict is not bad and think about how much you can learn about yourself and your partner,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

If you find yourself having petty squabbles over nothing, it’s important to take a step back and consider how these arguments might be affecting your relationships’ well-being. Take time out to try and see the common causes of conflict in your relationship — could a new perspective and healthy communication help? 

“If you feel stuck on an area, challenge yourself to focus on what is triggering your cycle of conflict, not just staying focused on making things feel better,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“Conflict is understanding the trigger, and this is how resentment builds. Conflict is normal, resentment is not.” 

Unresolved conflict triggers this feeling of resentment, which is why it’s so important to take action before the relationship grows sour. 

When resolving conflict, focus on your body language. Show that you are open to a peaceful resolution with good eye contact, or even offer your hand to make your partner feel reassured and understood. 

If you’re struggling with where to start, Seeger DeGeare has some conflict resolution techniques which might help.

Be open and curious to hear what your partner has to say.
Acknowledge and be curious about your defensiveness that shows up.
Challenge yourself to want to work it out over winning.
Be transparent, your partner can’t read your mind.
Think about what compromise means for you, and be clear on your values.
Set yourself up for success, sit down with your clear mind, and not be distracted when you are working things out.

How to break the conflict cycle in a relationship 

Constant arguments or bickering can break your relationship, especially if you don’t know how to communicate without resorting to name-calling or personal attacks during heated exchanges. 

If you feel that conflict has come to dominate your relationship, it can be difficult to know how to break the cycle. 

“Embrace that at any given moment, you are functioning better than the other person,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Intimate relationships are all about compromise, with effective conflict management skills key to finding a fair resolution. By leaning on emotional intelligence, rather than lapsing into angry outbursts, it’s easier to find a middle ground that is sympathetic to both points of view. 

“Can that feel balanced overall, and can one of you take the lead in guiding both out of the argument? If not, sit with being open to working it out, and work from a place of curiosity and openness to how you might feel when you do,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

If you’re struggling to find a safe space to resolve conflict, it could be time to seek professional help or consider couples therapy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a conflict and a disagreement?

    A disagreement is often viewed as a less intense or severe form of conflict. For example, a disagreement arises due to a difference in opinion or a lack of consensus but does not escalate beyond a minor argument. Whereas conflict is a more intense and complex form of disagreement, where two parties clash over incompatible interests, goals, or values. Unlike more minor disagreements, conflicts usually have deeper emotional involvement and repercussions if not managed properly.
  • What does conflict resolution look like in a healthy relationship?

    Conflict resolution is a normal part of a healthy relationship. When conflict arises in these relationships, they are dealt with respectfully by both sides. In these cases, both partners work to find a compromise or resolution which reflects both points of view and which leaves no lingering resentment or frustration. This kind of conflict resolution comes with practicing healthy conflict resolution strategies, so no tension is allowed to build up or tarnish a healthy relationship.
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