Not seeing eye-to-eye with your partner can be less stressful when you have a toolkit of conflict resolution strategies. Conflict is natural, and it doesn’t have to be a negative force in your romantic relationship. It can facilitate learning about one another, open your mind to new ideas, and help you grow together. When you and your partner disagree and don’t resolve the conflict, however, important topics may get pushed aside or ignored instead. Prolonged or repetitive friction or conflict can have effects similar to long-term stress, and it can slowly impact your connection. Conflict resolution in relationships is key to lasting and meaningful bonds. Below are five tips for resolving conflict with your partner:

1. Creating an atmosphere of mutual respect
Going into an argument with the goal of proving your partner wrong can be a recipe for resentment. To settle disagreements and reach healthy conflict resolutions both partners need to treat each other respectfully with “fair fighting rules.” These conflict resolution rules may include:

no swearing
no name-calling
no raising your voice or yelling
no direct or indirect violent behaviour
no going off-topic until it’s resolved
looking each other in the eyes when talking
cooling off and trying again later when things heat up

Without feeling respected, it is hard to communicate openly. f you want honest dialogue you have to treat each other with respect and kindness. Everyone wins when there is an atmosphere of mutual respect. Mutual respect makes room for feeling safe and cared for in the relationship.

2. Recentering when things get emotional
It’s OK to be passionate about your stance on life. Sometimes emotions can come out full force when you’re feeling challenged on that stance, though. Stepping back from the conflict if either party is feeling overwhelmed can be important.

Say to the other, ‘I want you to know that you are more important to me than this issue.  If you notice your partner is becoming more upset during the argument, you can also ask them, “How can I help you feel safer right now?” These questions and statements can be important reminders — to both of you — that your partner isn’t your enemy. This is someone you care about, even in moments when you’re at odds. Other conflict-resolution gestures include:

offering a hug if that’s something you know won’t upset the other person
telling your partner you love them
sharing that you want to work through this but it’s OK if it takes some time
reminding them you’re not deliberately trying to frustrate them
offering to listen without critique

3. Addressing protective behaviours
While in conflict, remember that both partners are looking to protect themselves. We protect ourselves because inside, we are still the children we once were, and when stressed, we go to the coping strategies that we learned as a child and that continue to help us cope. Everyone’s protective behaviours can look different. Sometimes they can look like emotional distancing or putting up walls. When you anticipate protective behaviours from your partner try to respond with compassion rather than taking it as a personal attack. Chances are you’ve seen a pattern of protective behaviours in your partner in the past. Some common behaviours to watch for include:

shutting down during a conversation
emotional distancing

4. Validating feelings
When trying to resolve an argument, it is important to validate the feelings your partner has before trying to correct any misperceptions or misunderstandings. When you tell someone they’re wrong at the start, it may only make them feel misunderstood and unheard. This won’t likely lead to conflict resolution. Acknowledging your partner’s feelings, first, can avoid starting the conflict in a state of resentment and defensiveness. You can help validate your partner’s feelings by:

not interrupting while they explain how they feel
nodding while they talk
making eye contact
keeping a neutral or thoughtful expression
making affirmative statements like “I understand,” “that’s a good point,” or, “yes, that makes sense.”
thanking them for expressing their thoughts
repeating to them what you’ve heard
asking questions about what they said

5. Seeking the root cause of conflict
Take time during conflict to question what challenges may be creating the issue. You can help uncover the root causes of conflict by asking your partner questions like:

Do you have needs that you feel aren’t being met?
What changes do you think would help resolve this conflict?
How can I help you feel better/safer?
Is there something I do that makes you feel invalidated?