October 10, 2012

How Do You Avoid Conflict in Relationships?

One of the most common questions I get from my relationship clients is "How do we stop fighting? How can we avoid conflict?"

Well, one thing to understand is the more we focus on the "problem" the more the problem digs its claws in and keeps its hold on us. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz point out in their article, “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” that:
  • Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain. 
  • Expectation shapes reality. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive.
If what we ruminate upon has a significant impact on how we perceive situations and, moreover, our very brain chemistry, then we need to pay particular attention to what we are focusing on. 

So, one of my first responses to this question about conflict is always to turn the attention away from what is not working and instead focus on what is.

In her article “10 Ways to Perk Up Your Relationship”, Darby Saxbe points out that we get plenty of advice about what not to do in relationships:
"Don't nag. Don't stonewall. Don't blame. Don't leave the toilet seat up, don't squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, and definitely don't assume he's that into you when he's just not. Well, don't listen.

The happiest couples focus on do's, not don'ts. Rather than just steering clear of negative interactions, they actively work to build positivity into their relationships." 
So, if you are stuck in negativity and focused on what’s not working, take this opportunity to play a new game in your relationship! If you are not sure how to get started, you can do a quick reflection exercise by asking yourself:

“What have I been out to prove about my relationship? What do I want to prove instead?”

“What have I been out to prove about my partner? What do I want to prove instead?”

Then, start a log so you can keep track of all of the moments when something is done or said that supports what you are now out to prove. Before long, you will begin to have a broader perspective about your relationship and partner rather than one that is hindered by negative tunnel-vision.

You can also check out the ten options Darby offers:
  1. Be grateful
  2. Poke fun at each other.
  3. Capitalize on good news.
  4. Use your illusions.
  5. Find your ideal self—in your partner.
  6. Notice what’s new about your partner.
  7. Put it in writing.
  8. Provide support in secret.
  9. Get back in touch.
  10. Look at yourself.
Regardless of how you do it, take a moment today to invest in your relationship’s positivity bank account. The returns are excellent!


  1. The happiest couples focus on do's, not don'ts. Rather than just steering clear of negative interactions, they actively work to build positivity into their relationships."

    Right on! The brain just doesn't like negative injunctions and tend to respond paradoxically

  2. Thanks for the comment Scott. I like that phrase - "negative injunctions"!

  3. Absolutely! Reminds be of "Be The Change You Wish To See." During challenging relationship times, I always try to figure out what it is that I want to be receiving and start doing that. I start to feel better and the relationship has a shift.

  4. It is really an interesting topic! I also kept on asking this one since I and my boyfriend keeps on fighting all over again. I admit that I am a nagger! I tend to get mad easily specially if my partner will not do this,do that and whatever the things I want him to be and to do. I am so demanding and later on I just realize my bad side because my boyfriend left me. He used to love me but now he's already tired being with me. I can't really explain the pain I felt that time but now I just move on. I want to thank you for sharing this nice topic of yours. It's educating the readers specially those who are in a relationship nowadays.

  5. Thanks you everyone for your comments! Relationships are tricky, and we can all continue to learn new skills that will help us improve, grow, and connect on deeper levels!


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