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A couple -- man and woman -- are sitting on a couch looking distressed after having their first fight


Ten tips for handling relationship conflicts in a healthy way

M.J. Santos   |   Fri, 3 Nov 2023

Ahh, the first fight: an unpleasant milestone that every couple copes with sooner or later. Even the silliest of inaugural arguments may throw you for a loop – it can be unnerving when the "honeymoon bubble" bursts – and it’s not always easy to spy a clear pathway back to contentment.

The good news is that conflicts are a natural part of any relationship, and by approaching them with empathy, respect, and a willingness to work together, you and your partner can emerge from them with a stronger foundation and a more intense connection. The key is to have a strategy for handling conflict in a healthy way.

Check out Couple’s ten tips for doing just that, and let us know if you have any suggestions of your own for traversing tense times.

1. Communicate openly and honestly

As with every aspect of a relationship, open communication is the key to navigating conflicts successfully. Ignoring issues or blowing them out of proportion will get you nowhere fast. Instead, it’s important to establish a safe and non-judgmental space where you both feel comfortable expressing your thoughts and feelings. Be open, be honest (with your partner and yourself), and commit to listening to your partner even when you disagree with what they’re saying. A willingness to hear each other is a huge healthy step toward reconciliation.

2. Choose the right time and place for your discussion

Timing is important when discussing sensitive topics. Avoid addressing issues when one or both of you are tired, stressed, in a rush, or preoccupied by something else. Issues can only be resolved if you’re both fully present and committed to the conversation at hand. Also, be sure to find a quiet, private space to talk – you don’t need an audience watching (or weighing in!) on top of everything else.

3. Remain calm and respectful

Hard as it can be sometimes, do your best to keep your emotions in check during a conflict. Avoid shouting, name-calling, or blaming. Speak respectfully, and use "I" statements to express your feelings and needs instead of “you” statements. For example, say "I feel hurt when X” instead of "you always do Y.” Even if your partner is objectively at fault, you may be able to reach them better when they’re not feeling cornered and on the defensive.

4. Take breaks when you lose perspective

If a conversation becomes too heated or emotional, it's okay (and advisable!) to take a break and cool off. You never want to say something cruel in the heat of the moment. Not only is it profoundly disrespectful to the person you love, but sometimes it’s impossible to walk back or recover from pointed, hurtful statements. Instead, agree on a specific time to revisit the discussion once both of you have had some time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

5. Focus on the issue, not the person

Remember that you're both on the same team. Mad as you may be at your partner, address the specific problem or disagreement rather than attacking their character. Focusing on an issue versus centering it as a fundamental flaw (even if the problem is a behavior pattern or choice) will allow you to keep the conversation solution-focused. It shows that you still care for one another despite your struggles, and that you believe there is a way to move forward together.

6. Practice active listening

Pay attention to what your partner is saying, and show that you're listening by nodding, making eye contact, and asking clarifying questions. You might even want to paraphrase their concerns to ensure you understand them correctly. Avoid sarcasm, eye-rolling, or other dismissive behavior. It’s a gift to feel heard and understood, and people are more likely to be open to another’s perspective when they know that their own has been considered.

7. Compromise when you can

In any relationship, it’s critical to find middle ground and make compromises when you can. It's rare for both partners to agree completely on everything, so finding solutions that work for both of you is the only way to thrive indefinitely. By all means, hold fast to your deepest held values or beliefs, but for the smaller stuff? Learning a little give-and-take makes love last longer.

8. Own your mistakes and apologize

If you realize that you were in the wrong or contributed to the conflict, apologize speedily and sincerely. Taking responsibility for your actions and words shows maturity and a willingness to improve. Plus, you gain nothing by doubling-down on an issue just for the chance of “winning” an argument. In fact, make it a goal to walk away feeling like you both have “won” the prize of reconciliation and mutual respect.

9. Don’t relitigate issues that have been settled already

Every conflict is an opportunity for growth and understanding. After resolving an issue, reflect on what you've learned about your partner and your relationship, and use this knowledge as a building block of strength versus a stumbling block that prohibits your growth as a couple. It’s not fair to your partner or relationship to relitigate old issues or use them as a weapon in future fights.

10. Consider seeking help

And finally, if your first conflict leads to many and you find it challenging to resolve them on your own, consider couples counseling or therapy. A professional can provide guidance and facilitate productive communication. There’s never shame in seeking outside help, especially when something as precious as your partnership is on the line.


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