Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution—When to Use Each One in Your Relationship

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Although they might sound like the same thing, conflict management and conflict resolution are in fact two different approaches to tackling conflicts in a relationship.

Conflict management is an ongoing process that addresses persistent issues that crop up repeatedly in the relationship; whereas, conflict resolution addresses the issue and provides closure once and for all, says Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of ‘Your Happiness Hypothesis Method.’

Conflict Management

Conflict management is the ongoing process of addressing and handling chronic issues in a relationship. It aims to minimize the negative impact of the conflict and maintain a functional relationship.

Chronic issues are problems that get revisited time and time again, says Silva. She explains that these situations are persistent and require management to maintain the peace and keep them from disrupting the relationship.

Conflict management is useful for chronic situations that cannot be solved. Contrary to what we might think about conflict and its ability to be resolved, about 70% of couples’ conflicts are unsolvable, says Silva.

If, for example, you and your partner have very different tastes in movies and that is a source of repeated conflict in your relationship, a simple conflict management solution would be to compromise and take turns picking the movie. This doesn’t necessarily solve the issue of having different tastes in movies, but it helps manage the conflict that can arise as a result.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution, on the other hand, specifically focuses on finding a final solution for a solvable conflict. It aims to address the root causes of the issue, find a mutually satisfactory solution to the problem, eliminate conflict, and restore harmony in the relationship.

For example, if you and your partner share a joint account and your partner makes an expensive luxury purchase from it without telling you, you may feel angry and frustrated in response to this conflict. The process of conflict resolution may involve sharing your feelings about what happened with your partner, explaining what you need, and requesting you consult with each other before making any purchases over a certain dollar amount from your joint account, make big personal purchases from an individual account, or another solution that feels acceptable for both of you. You and your partner can work together to reach conflict resolution by collaborating and coming to an agreement on how to handle big purchases from your joint account moving forward.

Can You Truly ‘Agree to Disagree’ in a Relationship? 

Agreeing to disagree involves accepting that you and your partner have different views on something, and choosing to respect those differences without trying to change each other’s mind.

This strategy can help minimize discontent in the relationship, says Silva. Rather than forcing someone to see things from your point of view, which can lead to conflict and resentment, agreeing to disagree respects their individuality, and their right to their own opinion.

The key to successfully agreeing to disagree is to actively listen to each other, understand where the other person is coming from, and empathize with their position, even if it’s not the same as yours.

How to Address Relationship Conflict 

Silva shares some strategies that can help you address relationship conflict.

Recognize Triggers

When either person is triggered, explore what triggered them. These are educational indicators, so taking the opportunity to learn about the “why” can help you avoid them in the future. 

Create a Plan to Address the Conflict

You want to ask one another “What actionable steps can we take to address the problem causing these emotional reactions?”

Deciding to agree to disagree can be part of your plan of action to create happiness and minimize discontent.

Evaluate Your Needs

These are some factors to think about as you work on finding solutions:

  • How do you want to be loved?
  • How does that differ from how your partner wants to be loved?
  • How do you and your partner express love?
  • Are your definitions of love modeled from anywhere (such as caregivers, books, movies, etc.)?
  • How do you both cultivate and honor that for one another?

Understand Conflict Rituals

Everyone reacts to conflict differently. The way you and your partner process conflict is a conflict ritual.

Define what your conflict rituals are. For instance, do you have to be left alone to think and process on your own first? Do you need to have it resolved before going to bed or can it wait until you are both ready and regulated? Do you prefer to talk it out with loved ones or keep it between the two of you?

Don’t Ignore the Issue

Don’t let issues go unaddressed, or they fester and get worse. 

As far as possible, try to discuss and decide on a mutually beneficial outcome as soon as the issue occurs. If it’s not possible to address it immediately, decide on a time when you can discuss it in the near future.

If you and your partner are experiencing frequent relationship conflicts that you’re unable to resolve or manage, it may be helpful to seek therapy. Couples therapy can help you discuss your issues, improve your communication skills, and address conflict.

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