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10 Ways Overcome Conflicts in Relationships and Grow Together

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

About six months into a serious relationship with my boyfriend, we started experiencing major conflict. Fighting over small things, flipping out over misunderstandings, we just couldn’t seem to get on the same page about anything. This caused me to think about relationship conflict in general, what causes it, and how to deal with it.

It’s clear that relationship conflict occurs because expectations aren’t being met. Each person comes into a relationship with certain expectations. These are based on past experiences, childhood, or how you think things should be.

The problem is that no two people think the same, no matter how much you have in common.

A lot of couples see conflict as a time to bail—either because they were already looking for a way out or because they freak out and feel threatened. When our ego feels threatened, it activates our flight or fight response. Sometimes it may be hard to get resolution on a conflict, making matters worse.

Instead of seeing conflict as a threat to a relationship, what if we reframed this and saw conflict as an opportunity and a sign of growth in a relationship?

This requires understanding that conflict will inevitably occur in a close relationship. The only way of getting around it is to not share your opinion at all, which is not healthy.

So what if we focused on sharing our opinions in a way that is productive?

To do this: 

1. Remember not to sweat the small stuff.

Instead of making every little molehill a mountain, agree to not make something a battle unless it’s truly important. Realize that not every disagreement needs to be an argument. Of course, this doesn’t mean you bow to someone else’s demands when it’s something you feel strongly about, but take the time to question the level of importance of the matter at hand.

2. Practice acceptance.

If you find yourself in the midst of a conflict, try to remember that the other person is coming into the situation with a totally different background and set of experiences than yourself. You have not been in this person’s shoes, and while it may help to try to put yourself in them, your partner is the only person who can really explain where he or she is coming from.

3. Exercise patience.

Granted, it’s hard to remember this in the heat of the moment. But stopping to take a few deep breaths, and deciding to take a break and revisit the discussion when tensions are not as high, can sometimes be the best way to deal with the immediate situation.

4. Lower your expectations.

This is not to say you should have low expectations but it is to say that you should keep in mind you may have different expectations. The best way to clarify this is to ask what another’s expectations are in a scenario. Again, don’t automatically assume that you come into the situation with the same expectations.

But what if you are in the heat of a conflict and you don’t seem to be doing anything other than polarizing each other?

5. Remember you both desire harmony.

Most likely, you both want to get back on track and have a peaceful relationship. Also remember the feeling of connectedness that you want to feel. It’s hard to feel threatened by someone when you see yourselves as interconnected and working towards the same result.

6. Focus on the behavior of the person and not their personal characteristics.

Personal attacks can be far more damaging and long-lasting. Talk about what behavior upset you instead of what is “wrong” with someone’s personality.

7. Clarify what the person meant by their action, instead of what you perceived their action to mean.

Most of the time, your partner is not deliberately trying to hurt you, and getting hurt happened to be a byproduct of that action.

8. Keep in mind your objective is to solve the problem, rather than win the fight.

Resist the urge to be contrary just for that reason. Remember that it’s better to be happy than right!

9. Accept the other person’s response.

Once you have shared your feelings as to what a person’s actions meant to you, accept their responses. If they tell you the intended meaning of their action was not as you received it, take that as face value.

10. Leave it in the past.

Once you’ve both had the opportunity to share your side, mutually agree to let it go. Best case scenario, your discussion will end in a mutually satisfactory way. If it doesn’t, you may choose to revisit it later. When making this decision, ask yourself how important it is to you. If you make the decision to leave it in the past, do your best to do that, rather than bringing it up again in future conflicts.

Conflict can be distressing. If you see it as an opportunity for growth, it can help you become closer and deepen your relationship.

Photo by slightly-less-random

About Stacey Hagen

Stacey Hagen is a coach and consultant who helps entrepreneurial women discover and develop lives and businesses they love. She is an avid traveler, adventurer, and life-long learner whose mission is to inspire and empower other women to live their lives full out. You can visit her at createcoachingconsulting.com and contact her at stacey@createcoachingconsulting.com.

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  • I’m going through a conflict situation right now so this post couldn’t have come at a better time – although I’ve become very practised at seeking a win-win situation on issues and looking for harmony.

    I the current circumstances (neighbour issues, although not directly my own), I only wish the the other people involved would read this post too!

  • Mclou2633

    In my own experience, conflicts arise out of each person trying to fulfill what they believe to be their needs.  In many cases, the ones that don’t get resolved and cause scars on a relationship is when those needs are rooted in fear.  I think the author’s advice on patience and allowing  each other to go into a neutral corner for a timeout to process their emotions is important.  I really like Tara Brach’s RAIN method (http://www.tarabrach.com/articles/RAIN-WorkingWithDifficulties.html) and I have found that whenever I feel resentment, using RAIN has allowed me to trace it back to my own fears.  Naming those fears and sharing them with your partner can melt the resentment and soften your heart so that you can truly have compassion for the other person.  I don’t know who said it, but I really do believe that love is the absence of fear..

  • Fantastic advice and tips, Stacey. If we all were able to follow all those guidelines faithfully, perhaps we could reduce the soaring divorce rates!

    I heard a saying once, sorry can’t credit the author/speaker, but it’s like a combo of your #5 and #8 points. “I’d rather be happy than right.” I have learned to keep using that over and over again during disagreements. I’ve always liked being right. OK, I’ll ‘fess up, I actually have *needed* to be right for much of my life. But that attitude certainly doesn’t resolve disputes or nuture relationships. I don’t know why it’s so hard to “get” so I keep working on it and maybe one day I’ll just be happy whether I’m right or wrong about stuff.
     

  • Great advice, Stacey, especially #1, #5 and #8.  I’m incredibly blessed with a calm, grounded, earth-sign kind of a husband, whom I think I’ve ended up arguing with maybe *once* in our 12-year relationship.

    It’s not that we don’t ever disagree with each other – just that we don’t *expect* to agree about everything. And when we do disagree, it’s not good or bad – it just is.  I’ve had other far more volatile relationships in the past, and I really appreciate the calm approach to disagreements in this one!

  • If I HAVE to be right then somethings wrong… 🙂

  • If I HAVE to be right then somethings wrong… 🙂

  • Fercasa14

    de lo mejor!!!!!

  • ShouldIMoveOn

    Great advice and tips Stacey, 

    This post is really helpful to those who are in need of help with conflict relationships. Top picks of great advice comes from #1, #4, and #10. Here is my website, which also contributes to helping people out with relationship conflicts http://www.shouldimoveon.com , I hope it helps if anyone is interested. Thanks for the great advice Stacey!

  • It seems as we grow in our relationships the better we are at dealing with them. I am much better in relationships than I was say, ten years ago. Its all about learning compassion and forgiveness in ourselves and others.

  • Great advice. It’s funny that some things are so common sense, but at times we forget and NEED somebody to reiterate them to us. Thank you for writing this because a HUGE fight recently happened with me and my significant other. These tips are VERY helpful. 

  • Mrwizard68

    Great advice…
    Thankfully my girl and I understand we have been brought up very differently and accept each others ways. Life and relationships don’t need to be hard, we make things difficult by not accepting what is. Love Life 🙂

    I’ve passed your blog onto a friend going through issues right now, hopefully she can read and accept at least some of what you say here.

    Cheers,
    Francis

  • Hi Stacey,

    Great list of tips! Conflict can be stressful in a relationship, but as you pointed out, it is a way to find out more about each other and learn how to work together. Patience is a good one to remember. We do often forget that people are operating from different vantage points, and we must be patient to allow the relationship to grow, and work out our differences.

  • Maggie Macaulay

    Thanks for these suggestions, which are terrific for parents and their relationships with their children.  A link to your post will be in the November 8 issue of Parenting News, our weekly newsletter for parents and teachers.  I hope it will bring you many new readers! 

    Wishing you well –
    Maggie Macaulay, MS Ed
    http://www.WholeHeartedParenting.com

  • Meadze

    This
    article can apply to any/all sort(s) of relationship(s). A month ago I
    was involved in a conflict resolution with 4 teenagers and their
    mother’s. Everyone was apprehensive; but amazingly it had a wonderful,
    positive outcome. This was an astounding learning experience for
    everyone involved. It was truly incredible to see the outcome of this.
    Everyone left with such a new understanding of each other. The
    teenagers totally amazed me. COMMUNICATION IS A SPECTACULAR THING,
    although hard for many because conflict is NOT easy. Each time you deal
    with conflict it gets a little easier. Ignoring it makes it all the
    more painful.

  • Meadze

    please read my new post. Maybe a BIG help!

  • Meadze

    For me, it’s been the opposite, I’D RATHER BE HAPPY THAN RIGHT!, It has always been easier for me to be happy than right (let the other guy be right).  Life was easier to let others be right. I have FINALLY figured out that NO ONE is always right and to find some balance is the real key!!!!!!!!! 

  • Meadze

    know what you mean! But don’t you feel better just putting it out there.   I’m hoping that will work for me!

  • Zhi

    I like this article so much. Very helpful. 🙂

  • I do think that conflict is a normal part of a relationship. It is like the spice of the dish that can bring you to tears but once you overcome it, you would find it as a very essential ingredient that can turn the whole dish into a very flavorful one. These advices you have given are very insightful. Thank you for posting.

  • corners

    if you read the 1st paragraph you would maybe pat yourself on the back from learning from your mistakes.
    Lots of us “think its got to be the other persons fault” for fighting or whatever.Some people figure it out after a few relationships or just aging in general

  • jeffery

    if you are out there passing through any of this problems listed below:
    1) If you want your ex back.
    (2) if you always have bad dreams.
    (3) You want to be promoted in your office.
    (4) You want women/men to run after you.
    (5) If you want a child.
    (6) You want to be rich.
    (7) You want to tie your husband/wife to be
    yours forever.
    (8) If you need financial assistance.
    (9) How you been scammed and you want to
    recover you lost money.email: okitispell@gmail.com

  • Scott Morris

    Both people need to make an effort to practice this though or it doesn’t work. The problem is when only one person sees conflict as an opportunity for growth and the other only knows how to fight and be defensive and lash out. It’s really sad. When one person sees the other as the only person who has any growing to do, this doesn’t work either. We all have ways to grow, all the time, at stages of our life. If we aren’t growing, we are dying.

  • Fictional female

    Absolutely. And this can make you crazy, over the years, wondering what you did wrong, wondering if the other person is even making an effort or is just a psychopath, and feeling guilty because you want to give up.

  • interesting…but not true

  • aekansh

    well thnks
    they were really heplful

  • aekansh

    hey why girls dont understand that sometime u have to show your love
    just telling” i love u but i dont need it to show” doesnt make us happy???
    means i am not expecting anything great???
    i just want her to show me that love
    otherwise i feel so unsecure that whether she even loves or not??

  • china ramirez

    My boyfriend tells me not to have convos,offer anything,&he himself tells me things bout his brother. I do as im told but yet he gives him all dat he told ne not to…. I dont understand.

  • craig

    this really helped me overcome relationship conflict and get a good you know what every now and then

  • craig

    its really good

  • jim

    i dont think that is very appropriate craig

  • craig

    i am going to get a you know what tonight. im really excited

  • marty got u trippen

    craig that was very stupid mate

  • Noelle

    Really good article.
    Disagreements happen often for me. I want one thing he wants another. However I compromise. He doesn’t seem to notice, even after I tell him the compromises I’ve made. It’s almost like he feels there is something I owe him. Or what I do isn’t enough. Which I feel like in a relationship there shouldn’t be that. I do a lot, I have a job, a house. I’m trying to make our lives a better. I feel like he just expects me to that.

  • Aaa

    What if I’m trying to understand my partner and express my feelings but they precive it as attacking them?

  • maple

    Thanks for for the advice its helping me and my bf a lot

  • Lincoln

    I find I am able to offer my partner so many of these which make solving any differences easier, what I find difficult is staying ‘whole’ and well within myself as not to need my partner to do or be any more than she already is, I find myself slipping into conflict when I am trying to get affirmation, agreement, acknowledgement, or the ‘right’ input, or response from her. I feel trying to remain at a healthy self esteem level tough considering my background and the normal life challenges and situations which can seem to shift my sensitive self esteem. It can be a challenge.

  • Lincoln

    I feel like I could have this problem, and if you are a guy and your partner is a woman – check your tone, I know my tone can sometimes carry an accusing or interrogative kind of tone. I know when my partner speaks to me like that it really gets my backup, hope it helps?

  • liz

    i’m ashamed to say that when i am angry I lose control and begin using personal attacks. I love the man i’m with and he means the world to me but I keep hurting him. :'(

  • TK

    I found this site looking for help in talking w/my son who is 18 and in his first relationship and there has been some physical violence and arguing between them. They broke up tonight and I hope they can each work on themselves and get healthier, if they do get back together or decide to move forward I hope they do not carry the same communication problems into the relationship.

  • Eford

    Hi,

    Thank you for this forum. My man friend and I have been going together and strong fora year and a half. We had our very first misunderstanding/disagreement and now we are not communicating or speaking like before.

    We talk on the phone all the tike, he doesn’t go more than 3 hrs without calling me and visa versa. Well it had been 24 hrs since I hadn’t heard from him and in which I tried to reach him, calling both his phones but no answer. So I called a close friend of his as I was worried( last time I hadn’t heard from someone in that long, I later found out they had died in their sleep)my man is diabetic and so I revisited my past and my concern turned to worry. So this close friend of his called him and he answered right away.
    My man then calls at which point I didn’t answer becoz now I was upset and confused. He then texts to say been sleeping on/off all day. I share my worry and experience with him via text, told him I needed to cool off. He text back saying I waa being paranoid, and to call him once I cooled off. Adding not to bring past experience into our relationship. He also mentioned he gets frustrated with dealing on emotional issues of loved ones. It’s been 3 days now and we have not spoken.
    I miss him, but need to him to understand where I was coming from.

  • Marie

    I am reading all these different articles not just this and I can honestly say that I am doing all of these things and I have told my husband hey I am trying to do the right things (being more specific to him as to which thing at what particular moment) but the struggle is he is not doing them or accepting them. He wants to argue everything. He wants to “win” what do o do.

  • George

    This was really helpful! Me and my girlfriend we actually fought and we kind of broke up yesterday, because I didn’t listen to her or anyone else. These were just a tiny wrong actions but it became like a mountain. So as this post says, I’ll try to fix and be conscious of the other person’s actions.
    Thank you

  • Syamsul Doank

    This is ok

  • Saddened

    I absolutely love this post, thank you for writing it. I really agree with all the things that you have said about how to try and resolve conflict. But there’s a problem – two people generally need to apply the principles described in your post in order to healthily work through the conflict – if one person tries to apply the principles, but the other person doesn’t, it can simply exacerbate the problem or at least cause a lot of frustration. I recently had a conflict with someone, and two months on the conflict is still unresolved. To summarise, my friend experienced my actions and intentions in a different way to how they were intended to be received – she reacted very aggressively to the scenario and disappeared for two days to reflect on what had happened. We then met to discuss it, and I apologised that my actions were experienced in the way they were, and I provided my version of what I said and did in the hope that hearing my perspective would allow us to apologise, revise our experience of the event, learn how to communicate better in future and let go and move on. This didn’t work, she was adamant that her interpretation was the right version, despite hearing my reasons for why I said and did as I did. I then proceeded to suggest that, although we couldn’t agree, perhaps we could find a way to let it go and move forward (I said this despitefeeling very hurt and misunderstood). This suggestion didn’t work either…she was too hurt and upset with what I did even though what she said I did isn’t actual truth at all. I have tried to continue to be kind and polite and she just doesn’t want to engage at all with me anymore. It’s very hard because I feel really misunderstood and I also think a lot about how she is and hope she is ok, despite feeling really hurt myself, and have been subjected to a number of personal digs which has been hard to receive and hard trying to resist the temptation to give personal digs back to her (I resist though as I know it’s unhelpful and I will regret it). So my feeling on your post is that you have hit the nail on the head about the best ways to work through conflict – but I believe that both people need to apply these principles in order to make conflict resolution possible. If one does and the other doesn’t, it can further set you apart from one another…it feels like you are talking two completely different languages which is really frustrating. It’s a real shame when you genuinely care about someone but you just can’t move past a conflict

  • Leslie Richter

    My husband left me for another woman 3 months ago and ever since then my life have been filled with pains sorrow and heart break because he was my first love whom i have spent my entire life with. i cried to my friend and my friend told me many good things about Dr Mack who brought her husband back, she asked me to contact Him for help through this Email ( dr.mac@yahoo. com ) i did as my friend told me and to my greatest surprise after 2 days my husband called me for the very first time after 3 months that he is missing me and that he is so sorry for every thing he made me went through.He came back to me and now we are happy together. I still can’t believe it, because it highly unbelievable.
    UNITED STATE
    Leslie Richter

  • Ambesi Polycarp Neba

    it is not always easy when we are products of different backgrounds to always find a similar way of doing or looking at things or issues. I found out that even when you have superior knowledge either based on position or experience, if the end point is to prove that you are right, you may not get your peace because your partner may just decide to argue for argument sake and you may end up in a heating the environment. Actions are better than words that try to correct the other person. If she does not always put things back immediately she uses them or washes utensils immediately she finishes using them, why not just do it if you are able to? Sooner than later I believe she learns from your method. I think just like you may not agree with some of your partner’s approaches to doing certain things, so too your partner may not about you but the love you share is far greater than the disagreements.
    Like the other contributors, I strongly support the fact that one should keep in mind that, in a disagreement, the objective remains to solve the problem, get to a more harmonious relationship rather than win the fight. All of us are losers when we cannot mend our differences and all winners when we bend towards the other not for “correctness” purpose but for peace.