Conflict Resolution Strategies for Couples
Conflict is natural, and every couple will experience it at some point in their relationship. With the Gottman method we talk about solvable vs. perpetual problems. Their research shows that roughly 2/3 of the problems couples experience fall into the perpetual category. That makes sense! A couple is two people with their own experiences, values, and goals. Holding different opinions is natural, should be expected, and can be a valuable source of learning and growth! The difference between a couple who can navigate this conflict and those who allow conflict to break their bond comes down to proven conflict resolution strategies.
The following are highly effective strategies every couple can use to get to the other side of a conflict in a loving and respectful way:
Create a Safe Space
When an argument begins, how many of us go into it with the intent of “winning” or proving the other person wrong? Having this intention is a recipe for disaster and resentment. With the Gottman Method we talk about the idea that how an argument starts is often how it finishes. A harsh start up leads to a harsh ending and a soft start up leads to a soft ending.
To resolve conflict, your partner and you need to establish respectful rules for what Gottman calls a Soft Start-Up. These can include:
- Using “I feel…” to start the conversation
- Speak from your own perspective
- Avoid beginning sentences with “You…”
- Clearly state what is wanted/needed
- No name-calling
- No physical aggression
- No foul language
- No blaming or shaming
- No yelling
Without a safe space to interact, no real communication can take place.
Validate the Other Person’s Feelings
Resolving conflict requires validation of both partners’ feelings. When you place blame on the other or state that they are somehow wrong, they will feel unheard and misunderstood. This is often the entry point of the Gottman 4 Horsemen: defensiveness, criticism, contempt, and stonewalling. Arguing with these Horsemen in place will never lead to resolution of the original conflict.
Acknowledge your partner’s feelings. Listen fully when they speak. Make eye contact (turn off the tv and stay off your phone!). Nod while they are speaking. Thank them for sharing their thoughts and feelings with you.
You will be amazed at how much better things go when you validate your partner.
Find the Middle-Ground
Conflict resolution ultimately relies on both of you being able to come to a compromise. Look for ways to find that balance between what the both of you want and what you are comfortable with. Learning the Gottman compromise ovals for conflict resolution is a beneficial way to help each of you identify your core needs and areas in which you can be flexible to reach a compromise.
Depending on the root cause of the conflict, professional counseling may be warranted. A couple most likely can navigate an argument that stems from someone not doing their fair share of chores. But a conflict that is rooted in, say, financial trouble or an infidelity, may warrant professional help.
If you and your partner seem to be unable to resolve your conflicts on your own and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. As a trained Gottman therapist I would be more than happy to discuss how the Gottman Method can help.