Conflict in Your Relationship
Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D.
years ago Dan sustained a devastating personal injury with
permanent impairments. He had been married to Sheila for
several years before his accident and both he and his wife
enjoyed their relationship and the joy that it brought them.
Since his injury however, Dan had become increasingly demanding
of Shiela often expressing anger and dissatisfaction with
the care that she provided to him and how she cleaned their
on the other hand, was often critical and demeaning to her
husband. They could both be mean and hurtful in their attacks
on each other. As a result of their frustration, Dan and
Sheila often went several days without speaking and at other
times, small issues would easily blow up into major disagreements.
Both were becoming increasingly distant from each other
and questioned the future of their marriage.
This short case report is an example of how easily a relationship
can be damaged and placed in jeopardy. Without a change
in how this couple manages conflict, a separation or divorce
seems likely. Unfortunately, resolving differences and ultimately
saving their relationship never seemed like a priority.
Managing conflict was a skill they never learned.
For most people, a relationship with a spouse or special
person is one of our most prized and valuable assets. A
relationship provides a feeling of completeness and a general
sense of well being. According to many researchers, if a
relationship is healthy there is a far greater likelihood
that an individual will be more satisfied with life, more
productive at work and more likely to be happy. A healthy
relationship even results in better physical health.
and arguments are an inevitable part of any close relationship.
It is how the couple manages a dispute that determines the
stability of the relationship. Handling conflict is a skill
which can be learned. It requires practice, discipline and
the midst of conflict, most people forget the overall goal
in addressing the conflict: Having your partner understand
your feelings and resolving the disagreement. The more a
couple can keep this goal in mind the less likely either
will engage in criticism, yelling or name-calling. These
behaviors only fuel the conflict.
fact, underneath many arguments, there is at least one person
in the relationship who feels neglected and devalued. The
natural balance of the relationship has been lost. Often,
conflicts in a relationship are an attempt to be heard,
to be valued and to re-establish the equilibrium that once
We all want to be able to feel cared about and appreciated.
If one member of a couple begins to feel neglected, these
concerns need to be raised before they become too great.
By keeping in close touch with each other, feelings can
be discussed before they become too emotionally charged
there are no sure bets on how to keep a relationship healthy,
there are some important things to remember in managing
conflict in your relationship. Changing the way you and
your partner argue is not easy, but it can be done. You
can choose to express your feelings in a more constructive
manner that can build closeness, understanding and trust.
Here are some important tips in managing conflict in your
Remember that both people contribute to the conflict.
An argument is never the result of one individual alone.
Both people bring issues to the relationship and react in
ways that contribute to the conflict. It is important for
each person to understand and identify triggers that may
spark old resentments or intensify emotions.Say what you
feel, not what the other person is. Rather than focusing
on what the other person did wrong or blaming your partner
for a problem, talk about your feelings. It is important
to communicate how the situation has made you feel and how
you are trying to handle it. Never call the other person
a name! If you can stay focused on yourself and start your
sentences with “I” rather than “You”,
you have come a long way in resolving a dispute.
your pride out of an argument. Often people have difficulty
compromising and reaching a middle ground because of pride.
Keep in mind that resolving conflict is not about proving
something or seeing who is right or wrong. Try to put your
pride aside in an argument and focus on what you need to
do in order to feel better. Be willing to apologize. It
takes a strong person to be able to apologize or to admit
that a mistake has been made. At other times, when necessary,
be willing to forgive.
Don’t try to control your partner. Don’t
tell the other person how to behave or what they need to
do. None of us like to be treated as a child. (Once was
enough.) Treating someone like a child simply encourages
him or her to act in the opposite way and to rebel. Just
because you think in a certain way or behave in a certain
way, doesn’t mean the other person should do the same.
on the present and don’t drag up old unresolved problems
from the past. Focus on the current issue and how it
makes you feel now. Past conflicts are over and done with.
Holding on to old grudges and old hurt is unproductive and
destructive. Those issues may never get resolved and you
need to let go of them. Most times, letting go of an old
issue is something you must do internally. If you are unable
to let these unresolved issues go, and they are consistently
hurting your relationship, you may want to talk with a professional.
Take time out when you need it. Trying to resolve
conflict when emotions are high is usually a losing battle.
If you feel your anger escalating, it may be best to walk
away, take some time to cool off and plan on discussing
this issue at a later time. Think about how you feel before
you try to resolve a problem. Don’t shoot from the
hip. Taking time out should be used whenever necessary.
The goal during a time out is to calm down, so that you
and your partner will be able to listen and discuss the
concerns of each other.
shout in an argument. No conflict can get resolved if
one person is shouting. Shouting at each other is intimidating
and a struggle for power. Give feedback to the other person
about the tone of their voice. If the two of you can’t
discuss the issue in a calm voice, this is an indication
that emotions are out of control and a resolution is not
possible at the present time. Express your feelings calmly
and in control.
enter a conflict when alcohol is a factor. If one or
both individuals have been drinking alcohol, this is not
a time to deal with conflict, misunderstandings or differences
of opinion. Under these conditions, anything can be said
and anything can happen. With alcohol, there is a better
chance of escalating the problem than resolving it. Sometimes
it may be helpful to see if there is a pattern between alcohol
use and conflict. Many couples discover that alcohol use
is a factor in many of their conflicts and disagreements.
Understand that not everything can be resolved. Many
times people simply feel differently about an issue. We
have different opinions, different ways of handling a situation
and different feelings. Be willing to acknowledge that having
these different opinions are OK. Couples can live together
and be happy in site of unresolved conflict. No one should
feel forced or coerced into change. Sometimes, just accepting
that there are differences of opinion is sufficient.
In summary, managing conflict requires a variety of skills
and a commitment to preserve the relationship. All relationships
require negotiations, compromise and sharing. Conflict is
inevitable. Learning to manage this conflict and to resolve
disagreements is an important skill necessary for the health
of any relationship.
of how conflicts have been resolved in the past, you can
decide to make some changes. You can choose to listen more
carefully, be more understanding and be more sensitive to
each other’s feelings. Over time, trust must be established.
These are critical steps in maintaining a positive relationship.