Conflict is a natural and even a healthy part of being in a relationship. After all, two people cannot be expected to agree on everything all of the time. With conflict being inevitable, learning how to deal with it in a healthy way is necessary to building and sustaining healthy relationships. When conflict is managed in a respectful, healthy way it provides a wonderful opportunity for growth. When conflict is managed in a disrespectful, negative way it can severely harm the relationship. By learning tools to manage conflict, you can turn natural disagreements into opportunities for deepening your relationship and patterns of behavior.
Take a time-out to let yourself or each other cool down before discussing your conflict. When we are quickly rising up the anger scale, our thinking becomes narrowed and we often cannot see the whole picture, resulting in destructive interactions. Step away and do something calming to
de-escalate your emotions. Be sure to come back together when you are ready rather than using time-outs to avoid talking about the issue. You can then finish talking about the issue, drop it and move on because you realize it is not important, or decide on another time to talk.
Make the relationship your priority rather than “winning” the argument. Communicate respectfully and focus on maintaining and strengthening the relationship. Avoid attacking each other by focusing on the behavior or direct issue rather than the person and emphasizing the positive along with the negative. Also avoid generalizations such as “you always/you never” and avoid touching on areas of personal sensitivity.
Get away from the win/lose concept. The majority of conflicts are not completely solvable. Find ways to compromise or meet in the middle and ensure both individual’s needs are met.
Be direct and specific. Vague complaints are hard to work on. Get to the heart of the problem by considering if you are just upset about a specific action or if you are upset about a larger connected issue. For example, are you just upset that your partner or roommate did not take out the trash or are you upset because you feel like you are doing all of the housework? Avoid constant fighting by working on core issues.
Talk about impact rather than assuming the other person knows why you are upset. By sharing how the other’s behaviors or words are impacting you, give helpful insight to your experience in the relationship and create room for both of you to grow. Express your feelings and experiences using “I” statements, such as, “I felt angry when…”
Avoid stock-piling grievances. “Unloading” multiple issues at one time is counterproductive. Only discuss the issue of highest priority and discuss it completely. Talk about issues as they arise.
Let it go! If you cannot seem to resolve the matter or come to an agreement, choose to let it go. Sometimes just discussing an issue in a respectful way can still help to strengthen the relationship, even if a resolution is not reached.
If you find that you are consistently experiencing conflict in a relationship, it may be time to seek outside help and/or evaluate if the relationship is right for both of you. Conflict can reflect more serious differences in core values and you both deserve a healthy relationship. The Counseling Center is a great resource for assistance in managing conflict and building healthier relationships.
Relationships should always be free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. For more information and resources, visit sandiego.edu/care.
Campus Assault Resources and Education (C.A.R.E.) is University of San Diego’s primary effort to provide support, resources and education to the student community pertaining to sexual assault and relationship violence. CARE Advocates are available for immediate assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 619-260-2222.
The Counseling Center is a confidential resource open Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, with extended hours until 6pm on Wednesday. The easiest way to secure an initial consultation is by making a same- or next-day appointment via the Wellness Portal. Students can also call or come by the Counseling Center to arrange for an appointment.