Health Tip – How couples can manage conflict

Julie McClatchey, M.S.W.

Julie McClatchey, M.S.W.

By Julie McClatchey, M.S.W., Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Conflict is a normal and expected part of marriage or other intimate partnership. Our goal isn’t to avoid conflict but to resolve it in ways that lead to a better understanding of each other and, ultimately, to strengthen our relationships.

Tips for effective conflict resolution include:

  • Set your goal as problem resolution that is a “win-win.” If you seek to prove you are right or to win an argument, the relationship loses.
  • Stop what you are doing and put your focus on your partner when there is an issue to discuss. Through eye contact, setting down your laptop and giving your full attention, you show respect and interest in your partner and set the stage for greater success at resolution.
  • Talk to each other with respect. Shouting, name-calling, criticizing, accusing, and other adversarial behavior will intensify the conflict, lead to hurt and anger, and, over time, damage your relationship.
  • Discuss one issue at a time, avoiding bombarding each other with multiple issues. Success in resolving one issue will help you to make progress in others.
  • If tensions or tempers are rising, take a “time out.” Agree to end the discussion and commit to a time to come back to the discussion when both of you feel calmer and ready to try again.
  • Focus on addressing behaviors vs. attacking the person. For example, replace statements like “You are always so selfish” with “I feel hurt when you don’t spend more time with me.”
  • Reflect back what you hear your partner say such as “I hear you saying you want more time together. Is that right?” This helps you to reach mutual understanding.
  • Listen, listen, listen! Feeling heard by your partner helps with resolving conflict and also goes a long way toward strengthening trust, respect, and intimacy.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers mental health counseling for couples, as well as children, adolescents, adults and families through 26 licensed clinicians. For more information, please visit our website: To schedule an appointment, call 515-274-4006 or email