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How to manage conflict in relationships

Conflict is a very normal and common part of human interaction. Put two personalities in the same room for long enough and you will begin to see some unique dynamics between them. Alignment of perspectives is not always possible and sometimes conflict is the result.  Conflict may occur in your relationship with your spouse or partner, with a friend or family member or even someone at work. Managing conflict effectively is an extremely useful skill to acquire, particularly because it helps resolve issues quickly and effectively.

Finding yourself in a conflict situation can sometimes feel quite overwhelming. This is especially true if the other person is quite explosive and threatening.  You may feel that the conflict may escalate if not dealt with in the right manner. In other cases you might even feel extremely angry or aggressive yourself. Whatever the case, it is important to remain calm and keep your wits about you. Responding rather than emotionally reacting is the best conflict management skill you can learn. When one responds, one does so calmly and thoughtfully as opposed to reacting which is often driven by emotion and can be irrational. Responding also means you are listening properly. In the midst of conflict it is easy to feel defensive and misinterpret what the other person is saying. When you stop to understand where they are coming from and listen from an empathic standpoint you will find it much easier to respond calmly with the goal of resolution rather than defensiveness.

Of course, you also have your point of view and opinion about the matter.  Conflict resolution is not only about hearing someone else’s story and apologising. Responding means thoughtfully and tactfully expressing your opinion and feelings too so that you may reach a compromise in solution.  When you go into a discussion from an attacking and blaming stance you automatically position your partner in a defensive position.  This will inevitably create an obstacle for them understanding you. Rather, express your opinions and feelings assertively, politely and in a kind manner that encourages empathy and compromise. Remember to be respectful and highlight some positives too. Speaking only about the negatives can also leave people feeling defensive and unable to hear you. Expressing yourself tactfully and responding also means avoiding blame, talking about yourself and your own perceptions and dealing with a behaviour rather than criticizing the person. Try to keep your discussion future orientated. In other words try to speak about how you would like things to be different in the future as opposed to talking about all the things you don’t like about the past. In this way you open the discussion to the area of compromise and finding solutions to problems rather than attacking the person.

Ensure that you also listen to what the other person is asking for and perhaps guide them into discussing what they hope for in the future. In this way you can begin uniting in the solution finding process by discussing ways in which solutions can be found and compromises can be made. Once an agreement is reached, make sure you celebrate that agreement and honour each other’s ability to stick to that agreement.  Support is available through psychocflogists with experience in relationships, couples counselling and confidence building.


Delany Skerrett | CFHP
Delaney Skerrett

Delaney is a senior registered psychologist working with people of all backgrounds and with a special interest in LGBTI+ people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and Indigenous people.

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