Conflict in relationships is inevitable. Anger is a natural emotion, and disagreements can be a healthy sign of difference.
Why does conflict in relationships happen?
Conflict usually occurs because certain needs are not being met, either within the relationship or outside of it. The object of conflict management is to ask for those needs to be met in a way that does not damage your relationship.
You are not alone to be going through relationship conflict. The charity Relate here in the UK estimates that one in five couples are living through relationship distress.
10 Ways to manage and reduce conflict in relationships
Here are some tips that may be useful to manage anger and reduce conflict in relationships.
1. Take time outs.
Disagreements are best dealt with when both parties are in a non agitated state. Strong emotions of anger, grief or anxiety do not make it easy for us to access our rational faculties, so there is little benefit of trying to address disagreements in this condition. It often just escalates into insults, and unintentional dagger-throwing.
Whenever possible, take a time-out to calm your body down. Techniques that help here include deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, and visualisation.
Both of you should respect each other’s need for a time-out. It’s not running away from the issue, but preparing yourself to deal with it in more receptive mode.
2. Reflect internally.
photo by Ketut Subiyanto for Pexels
Check in on yourself and ask yourself what you think the issue is really about.
- What part you are playing in this?
- Are you misinterpreting what your partner has said?
- Are you in a bad mood from something else?
- Are you being reasonable here?
Ask yourself if you think it is an issue that is important enough to stand your ground on. Can you let this go without resentment or do you need to ask your partner for something?
Sometimes we argue out of habit and because it connects us (even though it is negative, at least we both get attention). Ask yourself whether you really need to take up this issue.
3. Explain things clearly and beyond any doubt when it comes to conflict in relationships.
Avoid presuming that your partner should know what is wrong from your viewpoint. It is nearly impossible for another person to truly know what you are experiencing, and to read your mind and give you what you want.
Clarify, in a calm manner, what exactly is not working for you, what you would prefer instead. Being clear on what we need is a relationship superpower.
4. Take a different perspective.
There is sometimes great temptation to elevate the stakes in an argument. Threats and ultimatums are damaging to the ego and chip away at the whole of the relationship. Avoid statements like, “Iif you do this one more time…”, and, “I can’t take this any more, I’m leaving”.
Try and keep the argument to the specific issue rather than put the whole relationship at risk and throw everything under the bus.
In a working relationship, each of you should know that however unpleasant a disagreement is, it will not touch the relationship. If the relationship is to end, it should be decided separately to a heated argument.
5. Stay responsible for your viewpoint and feelings.
Relationship conflict is best approached from a personal angle, rather than blaming your partner. If your partner hears criticism they will want to defend themselves rather than address the issue.
Try and use ‘I feel…’, ‘It hurts me when…’, ‘I would really like it if…’. Rather than ‘you make me feel…’, ‘when you do that….’.
Try also to avoid generalisations such as ‘you always do that..’, ‘you never think…’. It is certainly hurtful and is usually inaccurate.
6. Own up to mistakes.
photo by Mahrael Boutros for Pexels
It is not a weakness to accept that you have acted out of line. Owning up to faults and mistakes is helpful to both parties, so long as it is not done out of martyrdom or for manipulative effect. Apologising early can save a lot of unnecessary conflict.
7. Include something positive.
When putting your point across, it brings good results if you can refer to something positive as well.
The discussion is unlikely to be rosy, but if you can draw on aspects that you do like, it will make your partner less tense and combative.
Putting across negative points in a humorous way can also work. Humour doesn’t mean your partner is trivialising the issue, rather it makes it easier for them to confront an issue.
8. Focus on the present.
By clinging to the painful memory of a past event (no matter how distressing it was) you are impeded from living in the present. No conflict will ever be productive if you include a grocery list of all the other things your partner has ever done that you don’t like.
Yes, you are entitled to a period of grieving over hurts, and are allowed to make your needs clear to your partner.
But long-held resentment will tarnish a relationship. So do not to use past events as ammunition. Even though it might be a recurring issue, the current disagreement should address the here and now.
9. Aim to be happy, not to be right.
The purpose of approaching conflict is to get to maximum results for both of you. When you argue to win (by point-scoring), the gain is short-term and mostly leaves you feeling worse. When you argue to ask for your needs to be met, it is still unpleasant, but you are working to building better conditions for both of you.
10. Agree to disagree.
You are entitled to ask your partner to help meet your needs, but it is not your job to get your partner to come around to seeing the world as you do. When it comes to conflict in relationships it is fruitless to try to convert them to your philosophy of life.
Differences should be embraced – including different sets of interests and activities. Finally, it is not up to your partner to fulfil all of your needs, they also have to be met internally and with other people (family, friends).
And if this advice on conflict in relationships isn’t enough?
The above tips represent a set of tools to manage anger and reduce conflict in relationships. They are not easy to incorporate, but with practice, your relationship will hopefully improve.
If these self-help tips do not have any effect, or seem too difficult to adopt, you may benefit from more in-depth psychotherapy. This can help you to examine the underlying causes of your anger (which may be related to personality difficulties and your earlier history).
*Please note that if you or your partner’s anger escalates into physical or emotional abuse, then it is strongly advised that you seek help from a third party or external organisation as soon as possible.
Need help navigating conflict in relationships? And want to work with a hand-selected expert We offer highly rated relationship therapists in central London locations and online couples counselling. Or use our sister site to book UK-wide registered therapists for every budget.