Managing Conflict in Relationships


Disputes are a healthy and normal part of any relationship. However, it is the way we approach these relationship problems and how conduct ourselves during a disputes that influence how effective we manage conflict. Disputes can range from a simple disagreements to an awful battle with the relationship conflict generally involving solvable or a perpetual problem.


Solvable problems are about something situational, this may include housecleaning, the in-laws or sex. With solvable problems, the conflict is simply about the topic, meaning there is no deeper meaning behind each parties position.


Similar to solvable problems, every couple has perpetual problems. However, perpetual problems are problems that stem from fundamental differences between the couple in relation to their personalities and lifestyle choices. Perpetual problems are problems a couple will return to over and over again often leading to emotional disengagement.


According to research, 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems (Gottman & Gottman, 2014). Hence, it becomes important to deal with and manage these problems through understanding and cooperation as opposed to becoming gridlocked leading to painful exchanges.


So what are some helpful ‘rules of engagement’ for managing conflict (Gottman & Gottman, 2014):


Speaker’s Job:


  • No blaming, no “you” statements
  • Talk about your feelings
  • Use only “I” statements about a specific situation
  • State a positive need. Within every complaint there is a longing and a recipe


Listener’s Job:


  • Postpone your agenda. Hear and repeat the content of the speaker’s need and perspective (the story).
  • Hear the speaker’s feelings (name emotions, feel them).
  • Validate the speaker by completing the sentence, “it makes sense to me that you would feel that way and have these needs because…”




  • Advise your partner ahead of time which perpetual problem will be discussed
  • Schedule a time to discuss the problem when both parties can give their undivided attention
  • Take a break and self sooth if someone becomes emotionally flooded (i.e. 20 minutes)
  • Postpone problem solving until both of you can state your partner’s position to your partner’s satisfaction


If you would like support with any aspect of your personal relationships, you can see one of Mates4Mates Psychologists.