My top 7 couple conflict resolution strategies

Have you ever felt stuck after a conflict with your spouse/partner?  An argument gets out of hand.  Words are spoken you wish you could take back.  Or perhaps you were on the receiving end.  You can’t get the words out of your head.  We’ve all been there before.  Every relationship suffers from a bad argument from time-to-time.  I’d like to share with you my top 5 couple conflict resolution strategies.

Take a brief time out

The key word here is brief. If you allow too much time to elapse what you have essentially done is withdraw from your mate.  Withdrawal is deadly to couple connection.  It can last for hours or days, shifting your conflict into a cold war. A brief time out is for the purpose of cooling down and allowing the key systems in your brain (thinking and feeling) to reboot.  During an argument the emotional part of the brain amps up and the rational part shuts down. Disengaging from the conflict for a brief time is a good management strategy.  It stops the hurtful dialog.  Now you have time to reflect on what just happened.

Identify the underlying issue from your perspective

Couples often get embroiled in the facts of the argument.  “You said x, y, or z!” Or, “you did x, y, or z!”  Arguments can go on for hours over who said or did what to the other.  Underlying the content of the conflict is the issue.  “I don’t think I matter to you.”  “I don’t feel respected by you.” When you reconvene you do not want to focus on the facts of the argument, but how you felt when your spouse said or did something to you.  Once you identify the underlying issue you can potentially have a more meaningful conversation.

Consider the underlying issue your mate has with you

Revisit the argument from his/her perspective.  What did you hear besides the facts of the matter.  What are her/his sentiments?  Do they feel neglected?  Lonely?  Hurt?  Taken advantage of? Don’t assume you know the underlying issue with your mate.  Ask questions.  Be curious.  “I get the sense you feel neglected by me.  Is that how you feel?” Once you know how your partner feels, you can address it in a compassionate manner.  Which leads me to the next strategy.

Approach your mate in a right tone

Do not return from your time out until the anger has diminished and your attitude is set for conflict resolution.  As you approach your spouse do not exhibit a defensive tone.  Allow your non-verbal language to convey an openness to your partner, a warm tone that says, “I am ready to work this out with you.” In previous blogs, I wrote about using “code language” to communicate with your partner that you are in a non-defensive, open position, that conveys safety and respect. Inform your mate that you want to talk about the issue in a manner in which you both feel heard and understood.

Use a speaker-listener approach

Basically what this technique suggests is one person speaks first and the other has to summarize what they hear.  The key in summarizing is to validate your mate’s thoughts and feelings.  It helps you to understand the issue from their perspective.  After about 5 minutes, the roles are reversed and the other person listens and summarizes what they hear you saying to them. The beauty of this approach is the following.
  • It slows down communication, keeping it from intensifying into an argument
  • It balances speaking with listening.
  • You both have the chance to speak and be heard
  • It allows the underlying issues to be addressed in a safe manner
  • Conflicts are resolved quickly and efficiently
I teach this technique when I coach couples on how to communicate better.  If you are interested in couples coaching please contact me.

Own an repair what you did wrong

In every conflict a measure of offense has occurred on both sides.  Sometimes one person bears responsibility for the majority of the issue.  However, the most effective resolutions come when both partners own their stuff. I wrote an entire blog on how to repair an offense.  It covers the 5 steps to an effective repair.  I use it all the time in my work with clients and the results are powerful.

Allow time to heal

Some conflicts heal quickly. Trust me, if you follow this steps it will.  However, some couple conflicts cut deep and take time. Do not force your spouse/partner to heal fast just because you want the matter over.  It will only make things worse. Instead, be supportive and caring.  Avoid pouting or feeling sorry for yourself.  This is weak and unattractive to your mate.  Find ways to connect that they may find helpful.  Do some tasks around the house they need done, help with dinner, or the kids. When you follow these 7 couple conflict resolution strategies you will likely notice three key outcomes:
  1. Frequency, intensity, and duration of conflicts decreases.
  2. You save valuable time and energy that can be used for fun activities.
  3. You will have a deeper connection in your relationship.

Now it’s your turn

What have you found to be an effective strategy to resolve conflicts in your relationship?  Is it one of my top seven?  Or, do you have one I haven’t mentioned?  I would love to learn from you what works.  Please leave your comment below. Maybe you are struggling in a pattern of repeated conflicts with no resolution.  Perhaps you can use some coaching.  Take your next step to successful communication by contacting me.  click here