How Necessary is Conflict Resolution?
Conflict resolution for couples is often thought to be a critical skill in making a marriage work. Partners frequently tie themselves in knots trying to figure out the key to finally ending long-standing issues between them.
And after 2020 and 2021 with many partners in lockdown and working from home together, it’s no surprise that couples have been experiencing conflict more than ever.
So, this might come as a surprise:
It may not be necessary to resolve the conflict in your marriage.
Indeed, it might not even be possible!
Marital Conflict is Often Unsolvable
According to John Gottman of The Gottman Institute, 69% of all couple conflicts are unsolvable.
These permanent, recurring sources of conflictcan arise from things like personality traits, differences of opinion, or clashing approaches to managing finances.
Does knowing this make you feel better? Or worse?
Swap Conflict Resolution for Conflict Management
The trick to getting a better understanding of conflict resolution for couples is to think of it as conflict management, rather than an issue that needs to be fixed or eliminated.
This acceptance requires that both couples bring their best selves to the table when friction arises. When partners agree to disagree, they are each saying to each other:
Our relationship is more important to me than being right.
Managing conflict successfully can involve the following approaches:
- Taking turns speaking and listening, with the listener writing down what the speaker is saying so that they can be sure they understand their partner
- Avoiding negativity and judgement.
- Speaking calmly – if you don’t feel calm, wait until you do before having difficult conversations.
- Taking a break if things get heated, and returning to the discussion in 15–20 minutes or even the next day if it is late at night.
Conflict Management in Couples’ Therapy
Conflict management can definitely be learned in couples’ therapy.
If you are experiencing relationship conflict that feels hopeless and overwhelming, please take heart. You and your partner are not alone!
Psychologist Dan Wile once said that “when choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” Conflict exists in every partnership, even if it’s not visible or evident to others (sometimes the appearance of no conflict is, in itself, a clue about pervasive tension or avoidance).
The first step in managing your relationship conflict is to accept that it is unavoidable and normal.
Next, relationship therapy can be highly beneficial for partners. With your therapist’s guidance, you can learn essential skills like:
- Compassionate listening
- Creating a safe space for your partner to express their emotions and perspectives
- Finding small compromises
- Understanding the motivations behind certain attitudes or behaviours
- Asking your partner what they need, and honouring their reply
- Acknowledging the things you can take responsibility for
- Using repair attempts (key phrases that de-escalate conflict)
- Expressing your thoughts using “I” statements
- Role-playing and doing homework under professional supervision.
What About Solvable Problems?
If 69% of couple conflicts are unsolvable, what about the other 31%?
The good news is, as the term ‘solvable’ suggests, these conflicts can indeed be resolved!
Solvable issues tend to be situational or topical. So the tension might resolve around:
- a scheduling issue
- a disagreement that is relatively trivial
- stress from other areas of life that is seeping in to the relationship
- an imbalance in responsibility for childcare or housework
- lapses in intimacy or affection.
Issues like these generally have a solution, and there is no deeper meaning driving the conflict.
Relationship therapy can help with solvable conflict too!
Gottman Method of Couples’ Therapy at The Bondi Psychologist
At The Bondi Psychologist, we use the Gottman Method of Couples’ Therapy – a renowned approach to relationship counselling that is strongly backed by science.
We would love to get to know you and your partner! Rest assured, we offer compassionate counselling in a judgement-free, safe and private setting. We have helped many couples get back on track and we would love to help you too.