When people come to see me for relationship counselling and I ask, “what is the biggest thing that requires work in your relationship?” Conflict resolution always is in the top 5 answers given, usually by both partners. My practice utilises several techniques for conflict resolution. Below is a short overview to give people some food for thought.

Dropping damaging stances is key. Basically, the “I’m right, you’re wrong” stance is damaging.” Being “right” is trying to create a reality in which there are no differences, which is trying to get agreement that Partner A’s feelings are valid, but Partner B’s aren’t. This puts stress and distance between you and your partner which is not what you want in a healthy relationship. In your marriage or relationship you want to feel connected. Safe. Validated. Appreciated. And you want to feel trust, to be able to feel intimacy. Stances give you none of these things. Learning how to drop stances and become more relational is important.

Compassion and empathy enable a person and a couple to look out for each other and helps them to understand where someone else might be coming from.

Understanding that while my partner is telling me something is upsetting or hurting them, that this is about a behaviour and not a personal attack. It’s not saying that you are a bad person, ‘you can’t get anything right’. If genuine and humble requests for change to certain patterns of behaviour with your partner are difficult to discuss, then a) a partner learning how to listen to what is being said without getting their back up is imperative. And b) learning how to reframe what it is you want to discuss so your partner can listen. It becomes a habit to blame. There is no vulnerability in blame. It becomes an ingrained, knee-jerk behaviour to think everything our partner reasonably asks of us is an attack.

Accountability means ownership of something. It means genuinely understanding you’ve done something – even if unintentionally – that has, for example, hurt or disappointed or even frustrated your partner. Being able to own that without adding a but is vital – ‘sure, I did that but so was everyone else’. Or, ‘I’m sorry but you should be over that by now’. Neither of those statements mean that someone is being accountable. Also, being able to say a heartfelt sorry is imperative. If we just say the words ‘I’m sorry’ to shut down conversation then your partner learns to feel unsafe or to not trust your words. Why are you sorry? How can you support your partner right now?

Adult conversations support good outcomes. When we come into our prefrontal cortex, we’re using our wise adult self, we’re calmer and will listen to understand instead of listening to rebut our partner’s concerns or worries. Then we can discuss things in a much better way and have far better outcomes. When we are in our adaptive child self, speaking from our limbic system, our outcome will be dysregulated, angry, unresolved. If you do this regularly, problems will stockpile on you. By the time you come to speak about another issue you’ll simply fight about the last thing that was left unresolved. That pattern will repeat over and over as resentment builds. Using time outs help. Knowing how to listen and knowing that we tend toward ‘assuming’ at times also helps. Humans are supreme storytellers and at times the stories we tell ourselves about our partner aren’t correct or in full context.

Sometimes you’ll have to agree to disagree – ‘Your favourite colour is red, mine is blue. Your favourite team is XYZ, mine is ABC. You love Italian food, I love Thai food’. Collaborate and compromise on these things – swings and roundabouts. However, there are some big issues that agree to disagree won’t cut it on. Like having a baby or not having a baby or when to have a baby. Money. Budgeting. Where we send our child(ren) to school – public or private. Religion. In-Laws. These need solid, compassionate, considered communication, discussion and resolution.

Good conflict resolution and communication skills are important for mature, healthy relationships. Does it mean we get things right every time? No. We’re human. However, if we don’t get them right more often than not it can become an unhappy place to be in the relationship.

Macarthur relationships Counselling is here to help your conflict resolution and communication skills. To also look at the reason(s) they may have derailed.