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On Each Other’s Nerves? How to Navigate Conflict

how to navigate conflict

by Andrea M. Darcy

Time to learn how to navigate conflict in your relationships? It’s certainly one of the best things to know to improve our mental health and life.

10 Ways to navigate conflict

Conflict is a healthy part of any relationship when we learn to do it right.  Use these tips to get started.

1. Lower expectations.

Cut yourself and the other person some slack. Particularly if one or both of you is experiencing a life change or challenge, where it’s normal to find ourselves in stress reactions and being grumpy. 

And yes, that means NOT comparing yourself to other families, friends, or couples who seem to be doing better, or with perfectly curated social media feeds.

Social comparison theory‘ in psychology suggests that comparing ourselves is an innate drive in all of us. But we have a tendency to compare upwards and see ourselves lacking (a meta-analysis of over sixty years of social comparison research found this to be the case).

In troubles times it is actually more useful to practice ‘downwards comparison’. Notice that others are doing worse than you if it helps you to feel better.

Am I in a healthy relationship quiz

2. Don’t jump to big conclusions.

You aren’t getting along with a friend. Or the sex in your partnership has gotten terrible. This must mean you aren’t meant to be together… right? 

Not necessarily. Again, it’s important to take in the big picture, and acknowledge if one of you is going through something. This can include something that has triggered  unresolved trauma from childhood, or pre-existing  mental health issues.

And sometimes it just means you need a little break, not that it’s the end of the relationship. Perhaps you have been spending too much time together, and have forgotten to source your wellbeing from within, by keeping up a balanced life and doing things you love. 

3. Discharge.

Conflict happens when we go into conversations ‘charged’. We are stressed, angry, or trapped in an assumption, and our words come out accusatory.

So how to navigate conflict better? Use tools to help you find calm in advance of mentioning something that is bothered you. This could be journalling, mindfulness meditation, or doing some physical exercise like yoga to to calm down. 

Also consider discussing your day first, before discussing what is upsetting you. Research by relationship psychologists Gottman and Levenson showed that a ‘reunion conversation’, aka talking about the events of your day, before a ‘conflict discussion’, meant that the conflict was more likely to veer into a positive outcome. 

4. Remember key communication skills.

You know these things already. But you haven’t really being putting them into action. Well now is definitely the time.

  • Don’t use blame phrases (You make me feel… But you did/said….).
  • Use responsible language (I feel ______ when you ______).
  • Reflect back to clarify and ask questions if you aren’t sure you understand.
  • Don’t assume you are right. Assume you could be wrong. (“I could be wrong, but I feel you are upset with me”).
  • Keep it between you and them (don’t bring up their mother, or what your friends say).
  • Listen fully, not preparing what you’ll say next in your head, allow pauses for that.

5. Take alone time.

how to navigate conflict

photo by Daria Nepriakhina

How to navigate conflict? Again, sometimes it’s about the power of a simple time out. This might be a day, a week, a few months… but sometimes it’s just a matter of a quick half hour.

Psychologist John Gottman also discovered that if you take even a 20-minute break after a tough discussion to stop talking and just read magazines? When you get back to discussing the issues, you will again have access to affection and humour

6. Put compromise on the table. 

The trick here is not to compromise secretly, which can lead to victim mode and a buildup of resentment. If it feels a compromise, let them know, even if you are happy to make it. This means you are at the same time letting your partner know your needs.

Or just keep asking each other, “What’s the helpful compromise here?”. Focus on how the situation moves you forward, not tears you apart.

7. Give the benefit of the doubt.

You know your partners flaws inside out, of course you do. He is too picky, she is too codependent. But if we are assuming the worst of them we can entirely overlook how hard they are trying right now.

Before you assume that they are driving you crazy because of their personal deficits, take a pause to consider (or better yet ask) what’s going on. Perhaps they didn’t not pickup the biscuits you wanted when doing the weekly shop to upset you, but because they have something on their mind, or the shop was simply out of them. 

8. Be a support system over a destruct system. 

how to navigate conflict

photo by: Taylor Hernandez 

If you’ve never really focussed on supporting each other, consider making an effort now with coaching and counselling tools like:

9. Escape the present together. 

Nostalgia has been shown by research to be very beneficial to our mental health and relationships. A team of psychologists at the University of Southampton focussed on nostalgia found that–

Nostalgia helps people “report a stronger sense of belongingness, affiliation, or sociality. They convey higher continuity between their past and their present; they describe their lives as more meaningful; and they often indicate higher levels of self-esteem and positive mood.”

10. Really enjoy any good moment that does come. 

Of course do try to savour the sweet, good moments that do come in life. The same team of nostalgia researchers did a study that found that ‘savouring’ an experience meant we were more likely to then look back with nostalgia on that moment four to nine months later. And that this process creates optimism. Now who couldn’t use a bit of that?

Need someone totally unbiased to talk to? Or think it’s time for some couples therapy? If you can’t get to our London offices in person, you can work with one of of our top London relationship therapists over the internet. Or use our booking site to find a wide range of online counsellors for every budget.


Still have a question about how to navigate conflict? Ask below. Or why not share your own tip with other readers?

Andrea BlundellAndrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing writer who is fascinated by the power of healthy conflict. Find her @am_darcy

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Blog Topics: Relationships

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