3 Ways to Deal with Conflict in Relationships

Dec 22, 2020

By Jenna Ponaman, Lyra Mental Health Coach

2020 has been a year of adjustment. From how we work, live, dine, travel, learn, and connect—pivot after pivot has left many people feeling depleted and vulnerable, and it’s natural that conflicts would arise amid all of these shifts, especially with those who are closest to us. That means relationships–romantic, familial, professional, and otherwise–might be feeling some strain, and conflict resolution can help alleviate that pressure.

Even when you’re in the early stages of connecting and learning about one another, such as those of you still in the “honeymoon phase,” it’s helpful to understand conflict resolution so you can draw on that knowledge for more challenging phases ahead. 

As a certified mental and emotional wellness coach for Lyra Health, I’ve learned that every relationship can benefit from insight on how to re-tune individual wants and needs, ways to create more balance, and constructive strategies for dealing with disagreements. With that being said, here are some steps to address conflict in a way that moves you closer to resolution instead of pushing you further apart.

1. Understand how tone is affecting the conflict

Communicating effectively depends a great deal on how we express ourselves. There are three main styles that are common in conflict during relationships:

  • Aggressive or defensive: With this communication style, you want to control the direction of the discussion in a way that asserts dominance. In the short term, you may get what you want—but only because others back off, feeling like you aren’t listening to their points of view. This style can be corrosive, damaging relationships over time.
  • Passive or avoidant: On the other end of the spectrum, this communication style relies on avoiding conflict. If this is how you approach conflict, you may do nearly anything to get out of having uncomfortable discussions or being challenged. In the short term, this is beneficial because you can avoid experiencing direct rejection from others, and you’re often seen as easygoing. But in the long term, others may take advantage of you, or you might be putting off disagreements only to see them worsen from not being addressed.
  • Assertive: When engaging in assertive expression, your goal is to resolve conflict, not to avoid it or push others out of the conversation. With this communication type, you work to understand others, and strive to get your needs met without hurting others. This can be a challenging style to achieve since it takes more effort, but it’s worth cultivating these skills.

2. Develop your assertive side

When you take the position of being assertive rather than aggressive or passive, it requires stating the facts of the conflict from a place of neutrality, and attempting to remove judgment from the situation.

If you’re in the midst of a loud, multi-layered, difficult conflict, it can be very tough to gravitate to a place of calm neutrality. Most likely, you may be used to swinging toward one end of the spectrum or the other. That’s why it can help to practice assertiveness before you’re in the midst of conflict. For example, that might include:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Speaking directly and calmly
  • Keeping your message clear and understandable
  • Believing in your ability to handle the situation
  • Listening to understand, not as a way to inform what you’re going to say next

If both people in a relationship are striving to create more assertive communication styles, it can be incredibly useful for conflict, because they’ve had practice in respecting each other’s boundaries and really listening. Like any habit, the more you do it, the stronger and more natural it becomes.

3. Think about your why

If you do find yourself in  serious conflict, remember your larger goal, which is to resolve the conflict itself—not be a victor.

Often, people in relationships can go into conflict resolution wanting to “win” the argument, and get the other side to concede. This can happen unconsciously, and causes both sides to dig in. That can lead to becoming more reactive and can create even more conflict, potentially diluting the quality of the relationship. 

In emotional wellness coaching, a helpful way to frame conflict in a relationship is not “me versus you,” but instead as “you and me versus the issue.” You’re working together—not against each other—to resolve a conflict that wouldn’t get unknotted without your efforts. 

When you can do that successfully and with compassion for each other, it doesn’t just solve one conflict, it can give you the tools you need to continue working together to tackle challenges in the future.

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DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Jenna is a certified professional relationship coach, blogger, and speaker residing in Los Angeles, CA.  She has spoken on many panels throughout the university and entrepreneurial circuits, and is a contributor to many podcasts and online publications, such as Business Insider, Bustle, Love Talk Radio, and Life Coach Radio Network.