According to research by expert Dr. John Gottman, both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time. That leaves the other 91% of a relationship vulnerable to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Conflict is inevitable in all relationships, but the difference is that those in happy couples have a stronger ability to communicate through disagreements and will eventually repair mistakes in their interactions. Knowing how to repair conflict can mean the difference between bringing you closer together as a couple or creating further strain and disconnect.
"The quality of our relationship depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but in how we respond to them. Conflict can be a path to closeness and intimacy, or disconnect and distance."
What is Conflict Repair?
Conflict repair is when partners are able to acknowledge their part and take accountability for any wrongdoings. Through repair, they are able to mend their bond and reconnect with each other. The goal of conflict repair is simple - to understand what went wrong, and to communicate constructively around how to make effective change.
Strategies for Conflict Repair
In the heat of the moment, disagreements can escalate quickly. When you notice emotions and tensions rising, try taking a break and waiting until you are both calm before trying to discuss or resolve any issues.
Listen to your partner, acknowledge their feelings, and try to understand their perspective. If you don't understand what they are saying, it's okay to get curious and ask for clarity. If you do understand, make sure to tell them that so that they can feel heard and understood.
Express your feelings
Share your own feelings and experiences without attacking or blaming your partner. Start your sentences with "I feel..." rather than using statements like "you always..." or "you never...", which can leave your partner feeling judged and defensive.
If you have made a mistake or said or done something that has hurt your partner, offer a sincere apology and take accountability for your wrongdoings.
Identify the need
Relationship needs refer to things like connection, teamwork, fun, affection, quality time, communication and intimacy. Unmet needs are one of the most common causes of relationship conflict. Work together to identify any underlying needs and find ways to make sure both your needs are being met.
Find common ground
It can be all too easy to focus on the problem and get stuck in a cycle of blame. This is when it becomes increasingly difficult to find a solution. Try instead to focus on finding common ground, then look for a solution that works for both parties. This is often where compromise comes in. Making a compromise doesn't mean you are right or wrong - it means you both choose to prioritise the relationship and each other, over the problem.
Sometimes conflict can leave you feeling disconnected from each other. After conflict has occurred, be sure to provide your partner with reassurance, some words of appreciation, or a loving hug. This helps you both to reestablish bonds and reconnect.
Conflict Repair Sounds Like...
There are many different ways to repair during and after conflict. Let's take a look at some now.
Using gentle start-ups and having a Hold Me Tight conversation.
Using "I " statements to communicate your needs and feelings. For example, "I am feeling overwhelmed. I need to take a break from this conversation. Let's check back in 30 minutes."
Taking accountability, apologising and making amends if you have said or done something to hurt your partner. For example, "I'm sorry for blaming you. Let me start again in a softer way."
Making gentle requests and statements to give your partner a chance to change/soften their approach. For example, "I feel blamed. Can you please rephrase that?"
Asking questions and responding with curiosity when you need clarity around something your partner has said or done. For example, " I can hear that you're upset about something. Can you help me to understand what you're feeling?"
Responding with understanding and acknowledgement. For example, "I can see your point of view. What you're saying is..."
Providing your partner with empathy, reassurance and validation. For example, "I can see this is really important to you. I care about you, so it's important to me, too."
Conflict can be uncomfortable and challenging. These questions can help you to improve communication, increase understanding and identify areas of improvement. Try working through some of these questions now.
What emotions do I experience around conflict?
How was conflict handled in my family growing up?
What feelings come up for me when my partner and I have disagreements about things that are important to me?
After conflict or a disagreement, what do I need to reconnect with my partner?
Have I ever felt hurt or disrespected by my partner during conflict? What happened?
What did I need from my partner to be able to repair and move forward?
What can I do to help us move forward from conflict?
What compromises have I made to resolve past conflict in our relationship?
Is there anything that I'm unwilling to accept or compromise on?
Are there any past issues or conflict that I haven't been able to move on from? If yes, why?
Am I willing to let go of that now? If not, what do I need to be able to move forward?
Conscious Connection Questions
How was conflict handled in your family growing up?
What qualities do you think are important for conflict repair? E.g. trust, communication.
Do you think we have these qualities? Are there any qualities you think we need to improve on?
What does support look/feel like to you? E.g. empathy, validation.
When you have a problem, do you prefer I help you to problem-solve, or just listen?
Do you ever find yourself ignoring or avoiding situations or people when you feel tension?
Do you feel comfortable sharing your views and opinions with me, even when you know they differ from mine? If not, what would help you to feel comfortable?
Do you feel comfortable telling me when you feel hurt/angry/upset by something I have said or done? If not, what would help you to feel comfortable?
In moments when you feel angry or upset, what do you need from me?
When I make a mistake, how can I make things better?
Do you feel comfortable coming to me with any issues or concerns in our relationship, or expressing any unmet needs? If not, what would help you to feel comfortable?
When you are struggling within our relationship, what can I do to make things easier?
Is there anything that you find hard to talk to me about? How can we change that?
How important do you think compromise is during conflict and disagreement?
Can you share some compromises you've made?
Is there anything you wouldn't compromise on?
How do you like to make up and reconnect after conflict or a disagreement?
Do you feel like past conflicts have caused damage to our relationship? If so, how can we repair?
Have any of our past conflicts left you feeling unsure of me or our relationship? If yes, how did you overcome that?
Is there anything I have said or done during conflict that you do not understand? Is there anything I can explain for you now?
When was a time when you felt most connected to me? How do you think we can move towards that level of connection again?
What things do I do or say that help you feel loved and supported?
Counselling Can Help
If conflict is too complex or deeply rooted in your relationship, seeking the help of a qualified relationship counsellor can help you navigate and find a path forward. Like all skills, conflict repair is something that you can learn, it just takes practice. Relationship counselling can give you valuable tools and insights to further improve communication and conflict repair within your relationship. If you find you're still getting stuck, reach out today and see how we can help you better navigate conflict and improve your relationship.