Activities to Help You Manage Conflict

Conflict is inevitable, but these tips serve as a jumping off point to managing it well.

Conflict is inevitable, but these tips serve as a jumping off point to managing it well.

Conflict is inevitable, but these tips serve as a jumping off point to managing it well.

5 Rules for Having a Constructive Conflict Conversation about Money

The exercises below show some simple strategies for beginning to practice conflict management in your own relationship. Use these skills in a way that works best for you and your partner. With practice, the two of you will increase your ability to manage serious conflicts before they escalate.

Physiological Self Soothing

  • Think of a neutral signal that you and your partner can use in a conversation to let each other know when one of you feels “flooded” with emotion.
  • Try to think of a place that makes you feel calm and safe. Lose yourself in the peace of mind that it brings you. Meditating on the beauty of a sacred haven in your imagination can be a perfect way to relax in a break taken from a difficult conversation.
  • Practice focusing on your breath: deep, regular, and even. Inhale and exhale naturally. As in Eastern practices, from yoga to contemplative meditation, we may find ourselves calmer and more centered if we stop for a moment and allow the noise around us to temporarily fade away.
  • Tense and relax parts of your body that feel tense. Feel the warmth and heaviness flow out of your limbs. This technique is similar to a focus on breathing, but you may feel that one or the other (or both) are preferable to you. Work with either of these techniques to feel your stress melt away!

Think of these as starting points for your creation of islands of peace within yourself. Investigate these lands, and find a way in which you may ask your partner for a moment to clamber up onto the safety of your own haven in the course of a difficult conflict conversation. 

Softening Startup

Think of recurring areas of frustration or current problems that you would like to discuss with your partner. Make a list of your specific needs that you feel are not being fulfilled in these areas. Try to think of ways in which to express these needs to your partner in a manner following Dr. Gottman’s rules for Softening Startup, by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How can I rephrase my “You” statements into “I” statements? 
  • How can I describe what is happening without evaluation or judgment?
  • How can I express my needs to my partner in positive terms, in terms of what I would hope or want rather than what I don’t want or can’t deal with?
  • How can I show my partner appreciation for what I feel he/she has been doing in the past, or in the present with regard to this area?

Remember that the above exercises are not set in stone or a part of some one-size-fits-all rulebook. Tailor them to your own relationship, your own needs, and your personal conversation styles. Let these be useful jumping-off points for cultivating your own sense of confidence in bringing peace and affection into your own conflict conversations. 

Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.