Three Steps to Recovering from Relational Conflict

by Beth Flinn, LPC

In any relationship, conflict is inevitable. Many couples want to know if there is a right way and a wrong way to resolve conflict. Relationship researcher, John Gottman, says the way couples fight is not as important to marital happiness as the way they make up. Gottman’s more than 25 years of observing and studying couple interaction has shown that three components of making up can make a huge difference in marital satisfaction. Cultivating the following make-up skills might just change the emotional thermometer in your relationship:

First of all, learn how and when to exit the argument. Couples who practice the art of ending the argument quickly are happier than couples who drag things out for days. This can be difficult, especially when each person feels the need to be right, or to get the last word. It is always best to end an argument before emotions escalate and harsh words are spoken.

Secondly, learn how to make and receive attempts to repair what happened in an argument. Talk to your partner about what might work for each of you as a repair attempt. Sincere apologies and statements like “How can I make things better?” or “I can see my part in all of this” are examples of ways to repair hurt feelings.

Finally, learn ways to reconnect after a fight has ended. A gentle touch, a lingering hug, a kind and sensitive question like, “Are we okay?” are all examples of reconnecting after conflict. Find out what works for you and your partner in terms of reconnection and make this a habit in the way you make up.

Keep in mind that a key goal in communication is not conflict avoidance but successful negotiation of differences. The next time you find yourself in a conflict use it as an opportunity to practice more productive ways to exit the argument, make repair attempts, and reconnect with your partner afterward.

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