The Secret to Resolving Conflict For Couples: Find the Right Time!

conflict connection

It won’t come as a surprise to you that 69% of relationship conflicts are perpetual, according to research by renowned psychologist, John Gottman.

This means that we’re having the same fight over and over and over again. 

The dishes. The laundry. The kids’ bedtime or the upcoming holiday event. 

It can sometimes feel like groundhog day. We’ve been there, done that, again. And at times, we show up to the same disagreement exasperated-saying, “We JUST talked about this!”

Whatever attempt we’ve made to change a negative pattern simply hasn’t worked. But we keep trying, anyway. 

Maybe if I act more upset this time. 

Maybe if I drive home the point a little harder. 

Maybe if I can finally get them to understand, they’ll change. 

Gottman’s research doesn’t imply we need to try harder, though. Rather, knowing that arguments are repetitive leads us to a more obvious conclusion: We must accept that we are two separate people, with two separate points-of-views, experiences, and sets of needs.

Committing to a relationship means that we are signing up for the same disagreements for the next 5, 10, and 25 years.

Knowing that perpetual issues are a common experience reminds us that growing a healthy relationship is not about changing the other person– or even resolving every difference. Instead, it encourages us to build acceptance around differences, to be curious about these differences, and then when necessary, to learn how to compromise. We must remember that our goal of conflict resolution isn’t to agree or “win.” Instead, the goal is to create a new space, agreement, and experience that works for you both! 

“Both” being the key word. We need to break free from the mindset that the goal of our conversations is to change the other person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, or wishes.

If the argument is perpetual, how do we break that negative cycle of communication each time the subject comes up? The number one game-changer is to navigate timing. Timing involves when you begin talking about it, when to pause the conversation and when to stop completely, and when to revisit the conversation. If you’re looking for a step-by-step plan on how to do this, I would love to support you inside Be Connected, my online program that teaches you how to stop having the next conversation devolve into the blame-game and how to feel like a team again.

Here are 6 tips when using timing to change a perpetual argument:

  1. Talk about hot issues NOT in the heat of the moment. This is a hard one. When we are in conflict with our partners, our stress response is activated and you are preparing to either fight-or-flight or to shut down and withdraw. You will not resolve anything when discussions escalate.
  2. Schedule time to bring up difficult topics. Don’t do it right before bed, or when your partner has a big meeting or is running out the door. If you haven’t consider having a weekly check-in meeting to help create a regular open dialogue with your partner. Check out this podcast episode for more on the weekly check-in meeting.
  3. If you get into conflict, someone needs to pause it - anyone - it doesn’t matter who. I encourage partners to practice stepping outside of their egos, which say “why do I have to be the bigger person?” Choose to stop a conflict or to initiate a hard conversation because you are an adult wanting a closer and more connected relationship. Choose the hard thing.
  4. Don’t just walk away. This is called stonewalling - and it sends the other partner into distress. Instead, let the other person know that you need a break and make a plan to come back to it. 
  5. Take at least 20 minutes for the nervous system to calm back to a state of regulation. During that time, go for a walk or do something that engages you - but try not to think about the argument you just had. Podcasts or audiobooks are great ways to get connected to something outside of yourself!
  6. Watch your partner when you are discussing a hot topic. Do they start to look away? Do they look flushed, or short of breath? Maybe they haven’t said anything for a while. Or maybe this is your own experience. This might be a cue that you or your partner has become flooded and you need to pause. Tuning in to our partners (and ourselves!) is key when discussing something important - and you need to work within a window of tolerance to be able to resolve your conflict.

If you can remember that it’s not about changing your partner–rather about finding a solution that works for both of you– and apply that thought process to a conversation held at the right time, you CAN break a negative communication cycle. Even if the argument has persisted for years!




Dr. Tracy