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by; Cathy Holloway Hill

When someone does something we do not like, we tend to focus on what they did wrong. We judge. We criticize. We point out what we deem to be their faults. The person, in turn, feels hurt or angry. The conflict escalates and distance occurs. If conflict resolution is your goal, this is not the way to go about it. Conflict in relationships does not have to follow this scenario. A common mistake is made by thinking blame needs to be assigned to someone. You do not have to prove who is wrong. This is a failing approach to interpersonal conflict.


First and foremost, keep your emotion in check. Begin your conversation, voicing your concern, in a calm manner. This may involve saying, “I really liked it when you helped me with the housework yesterday. I would love it if we could do more of our chores as a team” or “I felt very hurt when you talked badly about me to your parents and I need you to only say good or neutral things about me.”


Be clear, specific, and, if possible, make a request for a change that you would like. Remain calm when making your statements and requests. Don’t shout, make demands, or ultimatums.  And when it’s your partner’s turn to speak, do not interrupt no matter how tempted you are to do so.


Try to understand what is important to your partner in this disagreement. It is easy to quickly become defensive. Try to remain calm and ask enough questions of your partner to understand what is being asked or what their opinion is about the subject at hand. Ask him/her to express the main issues. It can be hard to address a problem if you do not know what the issue really is, and why it is a problem for someone. Find a way to pursue the concern and understand the other perspective while trying not to entertain thoughts about your own side to the discussion.


Address your partner in respectful terms and with a respectful tone. Refrain from any verbal or non-verbal (rolling your eyes, smirking, etc) actions that will convey disrespect for the other person. You do not have to agree with your partner, but you do have to respect that they are a person with a thought or idea that is different from your own.

If you or your partner starts to get upset, take a break and re-address the concern later after you have both had an opportunity to cool down. When people begin to get upset, they become emotionally flooded and then generally cannot talk in productive ways. It is better to take a break at that point … a time out … and later revisit the conversation.

After both parties have been allowed to voice their concerns, together find ways to repair the issues. The health of the relationship is more important than winning the argument. Gestures like kisses, hand-holding, love pats, humor, brief distractions, and statements like “I love you” and “I know we disagree, but I do not want this to come between us”, can make the discussion much easier on the relationship. If the relationship is suffering during the discussion, take a time out. Keep in mind that this is a partnership, and the ultimate goal is a long happy fulfilling life together.

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