How to Resolve Relationship Conflicts
In relationships, conflicts will surely arise. That’s not problematic. What’s problematic is if you handle conflicts poorly. On the flip side, if you handle conflicts effectively, you will grow together and strengthen your relationship. This article will go into
- Conflict Resolution Principles
- Communication Approaches
Conflict Resolution Principles
Here are some principles for handling relationship conflicts effectively.
- Consider all the things that the other person has contributed to you and the relationship. Put their kindness in your heart and feel gratitude for them. What you focus on is what you create more of.
- If you hold back harsh words, those harsh feelings will naturally fade away.
- If you endure their harsh words without fighting back, then give it some time, they will realize they overreacted. They will gradually respect you for being able to remain composed in the face of harsh treatment.
- When someone lashes out in anger, they are actually very anxious and afraid. They just want to be cared for. They are not in a natural, balanced state. So take care of them, and when they feel cared for, harsh feelings will dissolve.
- Before asking others to change, we must first lead by example. Otherwise, we have no credibility. When they notice our role modeling, they might naturally awaken to their need to improve.
- If after we’ve led by example and they still don’t notice, then perhaps they just don’t know. No one wants to be held accountable for something they weren’t taught.
- If we are to teach them, we must have a kind facial expression and a comfortable voice. If we scold them, then they will think we are no better than them, which makes us lose all credibility.
- Act out of love, not selfishness. Love is using your heart to feel what they need. Selfishness is pressuring others to give you what you want in the name of love.
These principles are all based on love, respect, harmony, humility, and responsibility.
After considering the principles, we can look at communication approaches. We need to avoid ineffective approaches to communication and develop our skills in effective communication styles.
There are two ineffective communication approaches:
- Avoidant then defensive
- Suppression then explosion
With an avoidant person, when you try to bring up a problem to them, they avoid the subject and try to change the topic. If you push them, they get defensive. They deny responsibility and start blaming you instead. They have a fragile ego and don’t want to feel like they made a mistake. They need to inner work to build up their sense of self-esteem to be based on effort not perfectionism. This way, they can judge themselves based on how much work they put in to improve rather than never making any mistakes.
If you are trying to communicate with an avoidant person, it’s helpful to first admit your mistakes and your contributions to the problem. Then emphasize that you’re not looking to blame anyone, but rather you want to work together to solve the problem.
Some people don’t say much at all. They yield to you, perhaps giving the impression that they don’t care or even that they’re unhappy about it but they’ll yield anyway. Each time they yield, they end up building more and more resentment towards you, until finally they explode and say something along the lines of, “I’m always yielding for you, I’ve had enough.” These tie up their self-esteem in other people’s opinion of them. They also need to do inner work to build up their self-esteem and base it personal values like respect and love. This way, they can judge themselves based on whether their actions express respect and love instead of on whether or not other people like them.
If you are trying to communicate with a suppression-then-explosion type of person, preventing the explosion is best. They may be supressing their feelings from you because you lack empathy and listening abilities, so they don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings openly with you. If they seem resentful when agreeing to your requests, point it and out say, “I notice you don’t seem too happy about agreeing to my request. I don’t want to force you into doing something you don’t actually want to do. Can you share with me your perspective on how to make things better?” The key is you have to actually care about their true feelings and show it by asking.
An effective communication approach is collaborative. Whereas the two ineffective approaches take a me-versus-you approach, the collaborative approach is us versus the problem. The two parties start by getting clear on the problem. They also get clear on their intentions, which is to solve the problem together and not to put blame on anyone for the problem. They take voluntarily take responsibility for their contribution to the problem without being asked to, and they focus on making the other person feel heard. They also affirm their care for each other with phrases like “Thanks for sharing that” or “That must have been hard for you.” A collaborative approach requires the person to have a strong foundation for their sense of self-worth, good emotional regulation skills, and empathy. But perhaps the most important trait of the collaborative approach is that they want the best for the team and no their ego.
Intellectually, it’s easy to understand the collaborative approach. The hard part is to do it in practice. The book Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Shelia Heen is a great guide (summary here).
Another important detail in conflict resolution is timing. When a conflict starts brewing, some people prefer to talk it out right now and not rest until they finish talking it out. Others want quiet time first to think and reflect, then talk it about in a thoughtful and careful manner. It’s important to ask the other person which type they are. If you happen to be the same, then great. If not, it’s important to respect each other and come to an agreement about when to talk. Actually pick a day and time so that the “talk it out right now” person feels like they can talk about it soon, while the “I need time to think first” person feels they have enough time to prepare.
Don’t pick a time when you might feel rushed or stressed. For example, if you only have 30 minutes before you have to go out, it’s probably not a good time to discuss the problem. You’ll be too impatient to listen properly and give them the time and space to express themselves clearly (or to express yourself clearly for that matter). Also, if you know you’re going to be very tried after a long day of work and a long commute, it’s not a good idea to schedule a time to discuss a probably right after you get home. You probably won’t have the mental energy and positivity to approach the problem collaboratively.
The key to a successful relationship is the ability to overcome conflicts and to grow from them together. Start by internalizing the principles of love, respect, harmony, humility, and responsibility. Before communicating, do the inner work to base your sense of self-worth on something healthy like growth and love. Also pick a good time to communicate. Then when you do communicate, make sure to use a collaborative approach.