How to handle conflict with your partner?

Relationship onflict

It’s impossible to avoid differences in relationships.

However many couples attempt to do so or they get horribly caught up in destructive styles of conflict.

How do you and your partner manage conflict?

Handling conflict is one major reason that couples to come to relationship counselling. It often gets prescribed by at least one partner as ‘communication problems’.

Understanding and changing communication styles helps couples to manage conflict better.

In your relationship is there any point in you staying stuck in a way of communicating that simply feeds part of the problem?

Dr John Gottman, a renowned expert on marriage and divorce is a strong advocate for couples learning how to fight well.

He categorises couples in to conflict styles of which there are 5:

1. Avoiders

They avoid conflict and all expression of differences.

2. Volatile

These couples love a good debate and are highly expressive.

3. Validating

They stay calm and express themselves with ease usually remaining neutral.

4. Hostile

They can validate but can be highly defensive. There is usually a lot of criticism and contempt, however, these emotions can be defused.

5. Hostile/Detached

This is the same as the hostile couple. However, they don’t regulate or defuse their high level reactions. Detachment and distance is ongoing and maintained.

(Source – The Gottman Institute)

Can you guess which style predicted a greater chance of divorce?

Gottman and his researchers found the most likely couple to divorce were the hostile/detached couple. These partners held such a strong stand off that neither partner is able to back down.

On the mend

The other styles of managing conflict entail at least one partner backing down providing room for reflection and repair.

Gottman’s research also acknowledges two main steps for couples to repair their relationship. They are:

  1. Being gentle
  2. Active repair of negative reactions

Take a look at these two steps and imagine what you need to do to be gentle and work towards active repair of your reactions?

Gentle make involve defusing the intensity of your reactions. This will help to regulate your mood. If necessary, take a short break.

Next think about the kind of mood you want to create to repair your relationship.

Create a mood goal!

Your mood or attitude will go along way to recover from conflict.

Your task is to pick at least one, preferably more, from the list below.


What conflict style does your relationship fall into?

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