Submitted Date 02/04/2019

Notice the title of this article is “how to resolve” instead of “how to avoid.” That’s because, whenever people get together (partners, roommates, coworkers, family) and there are emotions involved, there’s bound to be conflict.

Although it sounds like a bad word, “conflict” actually has a lot to teach us. You can often get the measure of a person by the way they handle conflict. Do they shout and slam doors or do they listen and weigh in? Conflict can also teach us about ourselves. What are our “hot button” issues? Do we let resentment build up and then explode or do we carefully consider both sides?

When we are faced with conflict, we don’t always have time to think. Tempers flare and insults fly. In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to control ourselves. Taking care of the small things as they come up can help us avoid bigger fights. A calm discussion does a long way toward keeping a relationship on solid ground.

Here are some tips for when that thing your partner does is driving you crazy:

Let’s use a common example; the dishwasher. Imagine that you make sure the dishwasher is full, all the dishes are facing just so, and that little magnet on the outside says “clean” before you run it. Your partner, on the other hand, doesn’t pre-rinse, puts your favorite mug on the bottom rack, and runs the dishwasher half empty. Grrr! What do you do?

Step 1. Check in with yourself: Is this a big enough deal to argue about? Are you willing to let it go? Sometimes, we’re just in a bad mood or we’re actually upset about an entirely different issue.

Step 2. Find the root cause: If you’ve decided that it is something to resolve, the next step is to identify why it’s an important issue to you. Let’s say you want the dishwasher full so you save on your energy bill.

Step 3. Get another perspective: Run the scenario by a friend, a co-worker, or a therapist; someone with no skin in the game. Good friends won’t be afraid to tell you if you’re being unreasonable. Following their recommendation isn’t always necessary either. The point is to hear another viewpoint or even just to say it out loud.

Step 4. Talk to your partner: Approach them in a non-threatening way so they’re not immediately on the defensive. “Hey, do you have time to chat” works better than “we need to talk when you get home.” Then, calmly bring up what’s bothering you and why (from step 2). And now it’s time to listen. What are their concerns or motivations?

Step 5. Offer a solution: Now that you’ve both listened to each other, look for common ground. Maybe you can do dishes together; they wash and you load. Or you agree on a limit of how many times in a week you run the machine.

Good for you, you’ve solved the problem! All is right with the world once again…but perhaps it isn’t. Not all attempts to resolve conflict work out. Remember that you have the right to voice your concerns. Also, remember that you’re not responsible for the other person’s reaction. An instant negative response isn’t always the final decision either. Once they’ve had a chance to reflect, they might change their mind.

If you’ve tried to resolve conflict and are repeatedly hitting a wall, it might be time to consider other options. If your partner won’t budge on the little issues, how will they be when times get tough? You might consider sitting down with a counselor or minister to help you communicate. You can also see if a friend or relative will speak to them. Weigh your options, stay in touch with your feelings, and know when it’s time to let go.

*Photo "Valentine Lunch" by Bunches and Bits {Karina} via Flickr (


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  • Andrea Hope 5 years, 4 months ago

    These are good, practical tips. I'm a little weary of 3 because talking about conflict with family/friends can affect how they see your partner, right? I struggle most with 4. It seems like when I'm upset about something, it dominates my thoughts and it's hard to wait for a non-threatening time and atmosphere.

    • Jen Parrilli 5 years, 4 months ago

      HI Andrea. Thanks for the comment! As far as Step 3 goes, you could talk to someone who doesn't know your partner. I get what you're saying about step 4. I struggle with that one myself. But step 3 might help a little with that, give you space to vent.

  • Tomas Chough 5 years, 4 months ago

    Great advice Jen! I'll definitely take this into account. Thanks for sharing!

  • Miranda Fotia 5 years, 2 months ago

    Great advice! Most of the time, I realize that my anger is not really toward my husband and is just due to exhaustion, stress, hormones, problems outside of our marriage. It's so important to check in with yourself so your not just bringing conflict into your relationship for no good reason.

    • Jen Parrilli 5 years, 2 months ago

      It's nice too when you have a partner who can be understanding. It's not always easy to get perspective, especially when you're upset.