How to Handle Conflict in a Relationship

How to Handle Conflict in a Relationship

Posted By: Kelly Seal Date: 10-26-2019 Comments: 0

Fighting with your partner is not a great feeling. Conflict is emotional, and when we act out, our behavior is usually tied to our past experiences, especially the painful ones. In fact, many of us develop conflict patterns with our partners that we’ve engaged in before with those closest to us – like our exes. 

Unless you break the pattern, you and your partner can become embroiled in the same unhealthy cycles. If you don’t address underlying issues, eventually you create a kind of stand-off where you aren’t able to communicate with each other at all. This can be extremely painful when neither one of you is listening to the other. 

This is why it’s important to understand the conflict and where your feelings are coming from before you attempt to resolve it, or even start to talk about compromise. If this sounds scary, you’re not alone. Many of us are conflict-avoidant, because we don’t want to hurt others or be seen as the “bad” guy.

Here are some steps to consider when you are trying to resolve a conflict in your relationship:

Acknowledge Your Feelings, and Your Pain.

Are you really that upset because your partner won’t take out the trash, or is something else going on? Are you upset because this feels like a pattern, and you do all the work? Take stock of what you feel, as well as what you would prefer the outcome to be. Visualize a better scenario for yourself. Would you be happy if your partner started taking out the trash and helped more around the house, or is there something else going on? Are you really craving more time together, or that he expresses appreciation for what you do? Consider what the real pain is that underlies the conflict.

Don’t react in the moment.

This is a tough one, because we are wired to react when we are hurt or frustrated. But reacting often leads to a lot more regrets and misunderstandings. Do you really think your partner is a cheater or liar, or were you just trying to hurt her? Words have impact, so don’t toss them around, especially with your partner. If you are wound up, excuse yourself and take a few minutes. Walk around the block, or take a few deep breaths and close your eyes to center yourself. Try to have the conversation later when you both aren’t so emotional, and when you aren’t tempted to say something you’ll regret. 

Understand your power.

You aren’t powerless in a relationship. You have agency over your own response and choices. Understand: if you tend to blame your partner when you fight, you are playing victim. You are not honoring your power – you are denying it. This creates more resentment for both of you in the long run. Instead, try to approach your conflict in a different way. Your partner isn’t the enemy, she’s merely showing you her preferences, but you are allowed to express your own. You are equals here, so don’t put your partner first and then resent her for taking control. Assert your own power in the relationship. 

Let me give you a simple example. You are sick of cleaning up your cat’s litter box, even though both of you share the responsibility. But you don’t trust your partner to clean it up in a timely way, or maybe she’s not careful, so you do it yourself but then you’re angry about it. Instead of asking her to split the responsibility with you and allowing her to do it her way, you are placing yourself in a victim role, which means you feel unappreciated and resentful. This takes a toll on your relationship over time. 

Another approach you could take is to tell your partner that you’d like her to clean up the litter box, too. And then back off – let her do it her way. It might not be your way, but she will be doing her part and it won’t create the resentment. Or you could ask her to take on something else that would relieve you of feeling like you’re taking care of everything. The point is, take some control over the situation. Ask for what you need, don’t just blame her for not doing something you want her to do.

You have power, and you have choices.

Use boundaries. Agree to disagree.

You and your partner are not going to agree on everything. In fact, you are different people, so likely you disagree on many things. This isn’t the sign of a bad relationship – it’s a sign that you have differences, and those should be respected. 

This is where boundaries come in. When you each establish and express your needs in a relationship, they don’t have to compete. There is compromise often, but when there isn’t, agree to disagree. Keep your boundaries firm. If it makes you happy to spend time with friends once a week, let your partner know this is your desire. Create time for it, and make it happen. And respect your partner’s need for his own time, friends, and space. When you are both pursuing what you need independently of each other, it leads to more fulfillment – and therefore more happiness in the relationship.

Kelly Seal is a freelance writer, dating expert, and author of the book “Date Expectations: A Guide to Changing Your Dating Life and Finding Real Love.” She got her start in the dating industry by hosting speed dating events around southern California and offering advice and encouragement to attendees. She now lives in L.A. and spends her free time hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and blogging at