Managing Stress: Conflict Resolution in a Relationship

At the core of any successful relationship is the ability to communicate and resolve conflict. Even though many of our associations with conflict are negative, conflict is normal and healthy. It is an opportunity for both personal growth and strengthening relationships.

Think about a conflict you recently had.
Since conflict is inevitable, what’s important is how we respond to conflict. Some options are hurtful or destructive to us or others and some options are compassionate and productive.

There Are Many Options for Responding to Conflict

  • Some options are passive, such as withdrawing, ignoring, avoiding, or giving in.
  • Some are aggressive, such as threatening, intimidating, yelling, demanding, or pressuring.
  • Others are assertive, such as negotiating, compromising, or seeking help/mediation (get an outside person to facilitate or help work it out)

Think about the same conflict.
Did you choose a passive, aggressive, or assertive response to this conflict? Why?

The assertive options are generally the hardest to master, but the most important if the goal is genuine problem solving and an improved relationship.

Being Assertive
Being assertive can reduce stress. Being assertive means claiming and expressing your experiences, your feelings, your wants and your rights. Assertiveness is necessary if compromise is to occur. People who are assertive feel comfortable asking for help, saying “no” to others, stating a unique opinion, making requests, and expressing both positive and negative feelings.

What is a situation in which you want to be more effective?
Plan what you can say in this situation with these four short statements.

  • I think…(description of the problem)
  • I feel…(emotional reaction to problem)
  • I want…(specific behavioral request)
  • I will…(your contribution to the compromise)


Find a good time.
Don’t have difficult conversations when you are very angry or tired. Ask, “When is a good time to talk about something that is bothering me?”

Focus on the problem, not the other person.
Open sensitive conversations with “I” statements; talk about how you struggle with the problem. Don’t open with “you” statements; avoid blaming the other person for your thoughts and feelings.

Stay with the topic.
Don’t use a current concern as a reason to jump into everything that bothers you.

Let others speak for themselves.
Don’t assume things. When we feel close to someone it’s easy to think we know how he or she thinks and feels. Don’t assign feelings or motives.

Take responsibility.
Say, “I’m sorry” when you’re wrong. It goes a long way in making things right again. Ask for help if you need it.

Seek compromise.
There may not be a resolved ending. Be prepared to compromise or to disagree about some things. The goal is for everyone to be a winner.