Healthy Conflict for Couples

What is healthy conflict?

Healthy conflict is a way to resolve differences of opinion between spouses or partners. Healthy conflict involves speaking up, finding out what’s wrong, and then coming to a joint decision on what to do about it.

Many couples have different ideas about things like:

  • Child rearing
  • Managing money
  • Sex
  • Spending time together or apart
  • Social life
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Goals and values
  • Control (who’s in charge)
  • Communication
  • Sharing household chores and child care

What are the rules of healthy conflict?

  • Ask yourself if an issue is worth talking about. What do you want to accomplish?
  • Talk about it in a way that is about something your partner has done or not done, rather than about who he or she is.
  • Try to choose a time when neither of you feels very stressed.
  • Be specific. State the problem and why you want to talk about it. For example, “I noticed that you start playing video games as soon as you come home and don’t stop until you go to bed. It makes me wonder if you don’t want to talk to me.”
  • Be sure that you talk about the current problem. Focus on what is happening now and resolve one conflict at a time. Don’t bring up things from the past that upset you. Avoid blaming and saying things that you will regret later.
  • Use “I” statements to describe how you feel and why, like, “I feel angry when …” rather than more blaming “you” statements, like, “You always…” or “You never….” Avoid labeling your partner. For example, don’t say, “You are just like your mother.”
  • After you state the problem as you see it, ask your partner to give his or her point of view and feelings about the issue. Don’t state what you believe your partner is thinking. Each person should speak for himself or herself.
  • Take time to think about what your partner said before you respond.
  • Follow the rules of active listening to make sure each of you understands what the other is saying. This means making eye contact, letting each other know that you are really listening to their thoughts and feelings, restating what you believe the other person has said, asking questions to check your understanding, and summarizing what the other person has said when they are finished speaking.
  • Treat each other with respect. Don’t call each other names or accuse your partner of lying. Don’t yell or scream and don’t be physically violent. If anger gets in the way, take a brief time-out (from 30 minutes to 24 hours) and set a time to talk again. If anger gets out of control when you start talking again, take another time-out.
  • If you are having trouble coming to an agreement or compromise, take a break from talking about it for up to a week so that you can each think about it over time. You may agree to disagree, but there needs to be a solution that you can both live with.

What should you do after the conflict is over?

The conflict is over when you both agree to a compromise or you agree that the conflict is over. When the conflict is over, each partner should:

  • Think about what you learned from the conflict. For example, do you know more about your partner’s likes or dislikes?
  • Think about your feelings and your partner’s feelings during the conflict. Was it helpful to talk things through?
  • Feel satisfied that you reached an agreement, even if neither of you got everything your way.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-01
Last reviewed: 2014-09-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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