Conflict in Relationships

These are some guidelines for handling conflicts in Marriages, Friendships & other relationships:

  1. Focus on the Problem – stick with what is really bothering you now; don’t get distracted by past incidents, old grudges, or side issues.
  2. Attack the Problem, not the Person
    • Where there are positives, be sure to mention them. In fact, it’s helpful to start your discussion with positives. (For example: “Honey, you do such a fantastic job keeping the yard looking perfect, it makes me so proud of our house. But I do have a little problem with how the stuff on the garage floor looks when the garage door is open”)
    • Make your complaint as specific as you possibly can. Focus on your partner’s behaviors, not their feelings (they can more easily change their behaviors than their feelings).
    • Use “I-statements” (that is, talk about your concern using the following formula: “When You Do —–, I feel ——”. This helps you stay behaviorally focused, and helps avoid making attacking “you-statements” that put people on the defensive.
    • Do discuss the behavior that you don’t like, but don’t make global criticisms of your partner. (For example, it’s o.k. to say, “I don’t like it when you don’t take out the garbage, even though you’ve committed to doing it” , but it’s not o.k. to say “You’re a lazy bum, you never do anything to clean up around here” )
  3. Listen with Respect and an Open Mind:
    • don’t interrupt
    • don’t be disrespectful – by rolling your eyes, laughing, making sarcastic comments – while your partner is expressing their thoughts and feelings.
    • do use your best listening skills; restate the other’s point of view, to show that you have heard what they’ve said.
  4. Take Responsibility for your Actions–acknowledge where you may have been at fault in a situation, and apologize for any ways that you contribute to the problem.
  5. Don’t Commit “Fouls” (and don’t waste your time!) –no name-calling, insults, threats, physical violence.

Emergency Operating Instructions

If a fight threatens to get out of hand – if you can see that the fight is escalating, if you and you’re partner are saying hurtful things to each other, if it’s getting verbally (or potentially physically) out of control:

  1. Call a Time Out. Either of you should be able to say, “Hold it, we need to take a break here”.
  2. Agree on a time to come back to the topic. If possible, agree on a time that is within the next 24 hours.
  3. Separate and Cool Off. Go into separate rooms, or somebody go out for a while. Give your body, and your stress hormones, time to cool down – at least half an hour. While you are taking this break, do NOT keep going over the argument in your mind. Replaying or rehearsing the conflict just keeps the stress hormones flowing, and does not help you calm down at all.Force yourself to think of something else.
  4. Reconnect with your partner. Do something easy that you do well together -go for a walk, play a game, cook and eat, watch TV – anything that gives you time to be with each other in a safe, low-key activity. Don’t talk about the issue you were fighting about until your agreed-upon time.

Michael Abrahams, LCSW-C