Conflict is inevitable and healthy. It signals that something needs to change and if we view conflict as an opportunity for connection, it can draw us closer to one another. 

As an Atlanta couples therapist, I’ve seen many different conflict styles.  Here are some tips to help keep your conflict productive.

  1. Take a time out

When our heart rate elevates above 100bpm (as is common in conflict) we start to lose the ability to relate with one another.  It becomes more difficult to perspective take and show empathy. 

If you need a time out in a conflict, ask for it.  If your partner asks for one, give them the time.  It can sometimes take 20-30 minutes to get back in a relational state after our heart rate elevates.  Agree to allow either partner to take a time out as long as there’s a promise to come back to the problem.

Further, the time out needs to be an actual time out.  Do something that will keep you away from rehearsing your argument like reading a magazine, playing a game, or doing a breathing exercise.

2. Be curious

When you and your partner are discussing a grievance, it can help to view the conflict as an opportunity to better understand your partner.  Try to connect through an investigative lens.  Use language like “Help me understand…” or “I really want to understand but I’m missing the connection.  Can you help me?” 

This will communicate to your partner that it’s safe for them to be vulnerable and that you are really trying to hear them and grasp their experience.

3. Be specific

Focus your conflict on the present situation.  Do not bring in everything your partner has ever done to disappoint you.  This is sometimes called “kitchen sink” fighting and it is never productive.

4. Take time to reflect on your emotional experience

Be intentional to discover why something is triggering strong emotion in you.  This reflection will help you use a gentle start up for your conflict.  Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed this method of bringing up your grievance:

When ________________ happens, I feel _________________ because ___________________.  Can you do me a favor and _____________. 

For example – Instead of saying, “You’re never home!  You must not love me anymore.  Why can’t you put me first for once!” 

You can try this:

When work goes late, I feel sad, dismissed, and disappointed because I’m needing to connect and instead of connecting, work is being done.  Can you do me a favor and tell me why you value me and give me a head’s up when you’re going to be late.

This focuses on you taking ownership for your feelings and emotions and is less likely to be viewed as an attack.

If we have relationships with other humans, we will eventually be let down, disappointed, or have our boundaries crossed.  This doesn’t mean that our partner is mean or inadequate: They are human.  We are human.  We are not perfect, and that’s ok.

If your relationship could use some tools and skills for conflict, this Atlanta couples therapist would love to help.  Call to find out more or schedule an appointment today!