Matters of the heart: Resolving conflict

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1In my last article I shared information about stress in high-conflict relationships and maintaining positive communication during arguments. In this article, I will share information about steps to problem solving and reaching a solution. Remember, unhealthy fighting with one’s partner can affect both partners’ and children’s mental and physical health. It is important that couples avoid the negative (being defensive, sarcastic, or withdrawing) while building positive skills. Long-term studies show that couples who practice effective communication, anger and conflict management strategies see many positive changes in their relationship.

Below are steps for problem solving and reaching a solution:

  • The first step in problem solving is to identify the specific issue you want to resolve. If you are anxious or hesitate about discussing it with your partner, ask yourself what is the best and worst outcome of a discussion, and if you are willing to accept either outcome.
  • Once you’ve identified the issue, decide if the issue is worth discussing. How much energy are you willing to invest in this relationship? How big is the issue and what are your intentions? (To blame, resolve, place guilt, understand?)
  • As a couple, decide when the two of you can talk. Pick a good time, not during meals or right before one of you leaves for work. Consider how much time you will need and how much privacy you want.
  • Get focused before talking. Take time to think about your true feelings, thoughts, impressions, wants, and the past actions related to this specific issue before you discuss it.
  • Start the discussion with what you think is positively occurring with the issue. You can say, “In the past, three positive things we did related to this issue were: 1.) _____, 2.) _____, and 3.) _____.
  • When discussing the problems with the issue, state how you feel or think about the issue. Many times this is when people get in to “blaming” the other person. Remember to use “I” statements, “I feel angry and sad when I see …”
  • Be specific when giving examples of the issue. Say “I want to talk to you about last Thursday night when we yelled at each other” will help your partner understand you more clearly than saying “We always get into arguments!”
  • Ask what you want for yourself, your partner, and the relationship, relative to the issue.
  • Negotiate a solution the two of you can live with.
  • Brainstorm as many alternatives as possible without evaluating any of them.
  • Evaluate the alternatives by talking about or listing the pros and cons.
  • Select the best alternative for the two of you based on what each person is willing to do.
  • Decide who will do what, when and how in the plan.
  • Implement the agreed upon action.
  • And lastly, review your progress after an agreed upon amount of time (for example, one month). Compliment the positive actions taken and renegotiate differences.

Healthy communication and conflict management are part of a healthy lifestyle, just like eating right and regular physical activity. Research shows that improved emotional, social, physical, and spiritual health leads to better outcomes for couples and families.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].


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