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Rules of Conflict

The most common issue we work on with couples is how they manage conflict in their relationship. The reality is most of us are not great at managing conflict. It is not something we intentionally learn as we grow up and it is often not modeled in a healthy way for us either.

When we are dealing with an overwhelming amount of conflict, we are also not communicating well in our relationship and our connection with one another is often diminished too. Working with a couples therapist can be a great step for finding a way to navigate conflict in a healthy way. If couples therapy is not in the cards right now, then we have a few helpful ways to build a better way of managing conflict together.

The Rules of Conflict

These rules are meant to be utilized as a guide to finding repair and resolution between you and your partner. Keep in mind that conflict is personal and unique to each couple. The rules may not always feel like they work and that is where we do suggest seeking outside support to help assist with understanding the barriers to navigating conflict in your relationship.

  1. Both partners need to be emotionally regulated. You both are in a place where you can express your emotions and not react your emotions at your partner.

    1. The difference between expressing and reacting is the following:

      1. Expressing emotions means you are utilizing "I language" to describe how you feel, your experience of the conflict, and what you need. "I feel (insert emotion) when (describe the experience). I need (identify and name what you need for repair and resolution).

      2. Reacting your emotions means you are typically raising your voice, having a tone that has anger/irritation/frustration/annoyance, and often defending yourself.

    2. If you are not able to be emotionally regulated, then the best step to take is to create space to self-soothe before attempting to work through the conflict.

      1. Self-soothing is implementing coping skills that help you process and understand your emotions. When you are self-soothing you are not focusing on the conflict. You are focusing on how to bring yourself back to a space of healthy communication and the ability to listen to your partner.

        1. These are all ideas of ways to self-soothe:

          1. Watch your favorite TV show for 30 minutes

          2. Go for a walk or run

          3. Take a cold or hot shower

          4. Deep Breathing

          5. Listen to your favorite music

          6. Dance your energy and emotions out

          7. Journal your thoughts, feelings, and experience

          8. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

          9. Eat a meal and drink some water

  2. Once you are both emotionally regulated decide who is going to begin as the speaker and who will begin as the listener. Someone has to start first in each role. You both cannot be the speaker at the same time as you will struggle to hear deeply to what is needed for repair and resolution.

    1. If you are the speaker first, focus on using "I language" to describe how you feel, what your experience was/is, and what you need. Ideally, share 2-3 sentences of reflection at a time and give your partner the chance to reflect on what they are hearing from you. The key part of being the speaker is naming what you need for repair and resolution.

    2. If you are the listener first, your goal is to be an active and reflective listener. Being an active listener means you are tuning into your partner's experience--you truly want to hear how they felt and what their perception of the conflict is even if it's different from your own. You reflect on what you hear they are saying to ensure you understand them. When they finish sharing, you then step into validating and empathizing with their experience. Remember that validation and empathy does not mean you agree, you can do this without agreeing 100% with your partner.

    3. Swap roles once the first set is completed and repeat.

  3. Step into repair and resolution.

    1. Repair and resolution can look like a lot of things. What you both state you need is the guide for what repair and resolution look like. Repair and resolution can be:

      1. Compromising

      2. Apologizing

      3. Behavior change request

      4. Comfort and Connection

      5. Appreciation

      6. Empathy and Understanding (sometimes this it the repair needed)

  4. Bonus Rules: Express gratitude for working on this together and schedule a time to follow up on the repair and resolution together.

    1. Ending a conflict process with a focus on gratitude and appreciation can go a long way.

    2. Finding a time to follow up on what the repair is that you both stepped into or both took ownership of can be great for growing and evolving together. Remember that it's not the perfect implementation of the repair or resolution that makes the conflict go away--it is the choice to try and grow, evolve, and work together on the conflict that has the most impact.

We are big believers that conflict can be a form of connection. While it can be tricky to work through, choosing to work on it together as teammates with different perspectives can create a connection when you implement the steps above and/or seek support to work together on it.

Looking to see how you can make conflict work for you instead of against you? Check out our free guide here.

Interested in a couple's workbook focused on keeping the love alive? You can purchase our workbook here.

Rules 1-4 of managing conflict
Rules of Conflict

Rule 1 of Managing Conflict
Rules of Conflict

Rules 2 of Managing Conflict
Rules of Conflict

Rules 3 and 4 of managing conflict
Rules of Conflict

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