Relationship Counselling

Healthy Conflict Builds Great Relationships


Avoiding conflict does not make for a great relationship


The important thing is to be able to share how you feel in ways that can be understood, respected and honoured.

Avoiding conflict is not the sign of a good relationship. On the contrary, it is an indication there may be larger problems and poor communication. Conflict can  be handled constructively and when it is, the relationship benefits.

Newly married couples may be devastated to experience frustrating conversations that breakdown into emotionally-charged disputes (fights)! It may seem the relationship is in a bad place and that they are doomed for an early divorce.

Generally, we dislike conflict. Like, really, really loathe it. And so, when things aren’t going perfectly well in our relationships, to some people it might feel like failure. Others have a higher tolerance for conflict and don’t feel a need for things to be resolved immediately. Some people never want to go to bed angry, and others believe that going to bed angry is sometimes the best option.

Conflict in marriage is inevitable.

In fact, not only is conflict in marriage inevitable, but it’s also a perfectly normal and natural part of life. Conflict is an unavoidable and very important part of your “happily ever after” – even though it’s not something you see in the movies or on the family Facebook image posts. Happy marriages have conflict.

According to relationship expert John Gottman, “It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Really? We'll never solve most of our problems? Yep, that’s right. Thankfully, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate all conflict. Mind-blowing!

“Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”

Conflict is inevitable – no matter who you marry. Please don’t fall for the fallacy that you wouldn’t be dealing with X conflict if you had married Bob, because Bob would have come with his own set of problems. You know it’s true.

Luckily, you can practice the skills and develop the ability to successfully navigate conflict in order to create happiness and harmony in your marriage. So, what are those specific skills that will lead to happiness now, and in your “happily ever after” future?

There are effective skills that can be applied when conflict arises.  Here are 6 techniques to help couples learn how to manage conflict:

1. Practice personal self-soothing
Take a timeout when conflict arises. Go for a walk, take a bath, read a book, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? At least 20 minutes.

2. Use a softened startup
It’s true that conversations usually end on the same note they began, so start softly. Don’t blame. Check the tone of your voice (don't yell or shout).Use I-statements. Describe what is happening. And be polite. (eg., I felt so unimportant when you ............................ I was really confused by .............................  I feel embarrassed because ....................)

3. Repair and de-escalate
Use workable phrases like, "Let's start over", “Let me try again” and “I want you to hear ... to help you understand what I need right now”. Be quick to offer, "I understand how important this is to you", "I made a mistake" and “I’m sorry” which help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.

4. Listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and dreams
Perpetual gridlocked problems may hide underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. So, start by thinking about what you really want and how you can communicate that more clearly to you partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and dreams. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand where your partner is coming from.

5. Accept Influence
Recognize that your partner has good ideas and important opinions (your way isn’t always the best way or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and find something you can learn from your partner. 

6. Compromise
Compromise in an art. “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your hopes and dreams.” So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported. A win/win situation is what is ideal - the win/lose scenario always leaves a sour taste and competition between each other only breeds contempt.

By practicing these six skills and learning to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then happily ever after can be yours every day as you recognize conflict for what it is – an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, to live a rich, full and meaningful life now.

(Information in this article has been taken from Aaron & April Jacob from The Gottman Institute)