Approaching Conflict

When conflict comes up between partners or spouses surrounding important life decisions, poor communication skills often lead to impulsive decision-making and relationship distress.

Regardless of the topic(s) to be confronted, strong communication matters. Implementing effective skills to approach potential areas of conflict can drastically change the outcome of the conversation to benefit the relationship. Here are a few:


Focus on a specific need

Before approaching the conversation, take a moment to check in with the core feeling or need would like your partner to gain clarity on. Speaking from this core feeling or need will provide the best opportunity for your partner to understand your perspective related to the concerns you both plan to resolve or manage.


Put your opinion aside for a moment

Take another moment before approaching the conversation to formulate some open-ended questions to encourage a more connected and intimate experience with your partner. Open-ended questions invite your partner to think critically and engage more in the conversation. Put yourself in their shoes with the intention of learning from your partner’s perspective. Leave your opinions to the side when coming up with these questions. Some examples include:

“How did hearing the needs I just shared make you feel?”

“In what ways do you potentially see us having conflict when we start living together? How do you believe we can best plan for those moments?

Minimize questions that may likely prompt a “yes” or “no” response.


One concern at a time

How many times have you and your partner attempted to resolve or manage a conflict before it quickly turned into a historical story-telling competition filled with blame and criticism?

Make a pact with your partner to focus on one concern at a time. Taking this approach will increase the likelihood that you will both be able to reach a compromise or a plan, if not a resolution.


Speak to actions, not character

Attacking your partner’s character will most likely put them on the defensive unless they have strong boundaries against those types of attacks. Either way, the conversation will likely fail to move forward. Speak to specific actions that may have led you to feel the feeling you are focused on clarifying. Add a need you may have that your partner may be able to meet to further the conversation.


Refrain from using absolute words

always”, “never”, “every time”, “all the time”

Absolute words in the context of conflict sends a negative message to your partner. These words convey little to no opportunity or belief that a partner can change. There is little hope for conflict management or resolution using this language. Instead, try using words that help communicate your concern as well as your acknowledgement that change is possible.

“Often times…”.


“Here and there…”


It’s OK to table the discussion

If either you or your partner begin feeling overwhelmed to the point where you are having difficulty maintaining the recommendations above, call for a time out. It’s more than OK to table to a discussion for later in the day or in the week. Forcing your way through a conversation for time’s sake may lead to impulsive decision making and relationship distress, as mentioned above.


Closing thoughts

When two people bring unique styles and approaches to communication, typically rooted from their family, arguments can quickly turn ugly when both styles clash.

If this is the case for you and your partner or spouse, consider working with a professional who can help guide you and your partner towards developing a more effective style of communication that creates more connection and intimacy in your relationship.

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