Effective Conflict Management in Relationships

Conflict is an unavoidable part of any relationship. The presence of conflict is not what threatens a relationship per se, rather how the conflict is managed. When disagreements are approached with the right tools, then they can be turned into opportunities for both partners to experience growth and a deeper understanding of each partner’s needs.

Why do we have conflicts?

Conflicts arise from differences in values, motivations or desires. In relationships, this could arise from disagreements on finances, parenting styles or even something as simple as what to eat for supper. Being able to recognize conflict as a sign of our diverse perspectives can serve as the first step towards being able to manage it in a constructive manner.


Effective communication is inarguably the cornerstone of successful conflict resolution. I encourage the use of ‘I statements’. These are more effective at communicating one’s needs without sounding accusatory. ‘I statements’ are actually designed to help each partner take ownership of their emotions and communicate in a way that is less likely to provoke defensiveness in the other partner. For example, instead of “You make me upset by changing plans”, one can say, Ï feel upset when plans change unexpectedly.” These statements focus on our individual feelings rather than the actions of our partner. They are key in reducing defensiveness, as a defensive reaction can block further attempts to communicate effectively. And when these ‘I statements’ are used, they are a way of communicating our needs. Another way you can use this method is, ‘I feel (insert emotion) when (insert event or action) because (how the actions affect you) and what I need is (express your needs). For example, “I feel frustrated when you raise your voice during disagreements because it makes it difficult for me to express my thoughts with clarity and I would like us to have our conversations calmly and respectfully”

“I feel lonely when we spend less quality time together because it seems like we are drifting apart and I would like us to schedule time together.”

A 2018 study found that the use of these ‘I statements’ was the most effective strategy to use during conflict, suggesting that using this approach helped to minimize the risk that a discussion could escalate into full blown conflict.

Effective communication is a valuable skill that can be learnt and can strengthen a relationship.


Choosing the right moment to address conflict is very important. Take John and Julie, who came to realize that when they discussed their work-life balance on a relaxed Saturday evening rather than at the end of a tiring work day, their discussion was less contentious. Being able to find a neutral time helped them to negotiate without the added stress of a long work fay weighing on their conversation. I would recommend even scheduling meetings as a couple to discuss major issues in the relationship or the family. This allows for mental preparedness, and you can even take notes and give feedback as I had outlined in the previous blogpost on active listening as a relationship-building skill.


Having empathy allows us to see the world through our partner’s eyes. A couple, let’s call them Mark and Sophia, came in for marriage therapy. Mark expressed feeling neglected due to Sophia’s busy work schedule. This was causing conflict in their marriage and after giving them time to each express their needs and concerns, they were able to work on intentionally creating time together. They came up with regular date nights, which helped Mark feel valued, gave Sophia a break from her hectic routine and nourished their marriage relationship.

When empathy is injected in our conversations, the partners are less likely to become defensive or hostile, and they are more open to listening. Empathy encourages a compassionate approach, which then draws focus on resolving issues rather than assigning blame. When we offer empathy to our partner, we validate them, create a safe space for honest and open communication and are able to navigate conflicts effectively. The goal is to reach solutions that are mutually satisfying and that contribute to the growth and health of the relationship / marriage.

How do you manage conflicts in your relationship?