The secrets to solving disagreements in relationships

In today’s culture of dating reality shows, smartphone apps and romantic comedies, it’s easy to forget one thing: relationships are work. Rarely do we “swipe right,” fall in love and automatically live happily ever after. And when the going gets tough, it’s tempting to throw in the towel, say “it wouldn’t have worked out anyway,” and move on – rather than doing the work to learn how to resolve conflict in a relationship.

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What causes relationship conflict?

Disagreements in relationships happen for many reasons, from minor everyday conflicts like who does the dishes, to serious issues like infidelity. Some common relationship stressors include loss of attraction and passion, emotional stonewalling and loss of commitment, as well as finances, family responsibilities and insecurity. Stress in other areas of our lives also impacts our relationships: When you come home from work frustrated and exhausted or you’re dealing with conflict with other friends or family members, that stress is contagious. You must learn how to resolve conflict in all areas of your life to help your relationship.

How to save your relationship

You’re already reading about how to save your relationship, so you’ve figured out the first step: you must have the desire to save it. If that desire is there, you must learn how to channel it into constructive steps that can fix what is broken, resolve underlying conflicts and ultimately save your relationship.

1. Examine your focus

Focus determines direction. If you’re focused on building a beautiful passionate relationship, that’s what you’ll achieve. — Tony Robbins

Disagreements in relationships become harmful when you’re focused on defending yourself from attack rather than on solving the problem. By focusing on your pain and suffering, you are ensuring you’ll experience more of the same, because where focus goes, energy flows. As Tony says, “Whatever we consistently focus on is exactly what we will experience in our lives.”

Years ago, Tony would take a two-lane highway lined only by power line posts at 10–20 yard intervals. One of these seemed to be perpetually decorated by flowers, candles and photographs. With so much space on either side of the post, it was amazing how many people had died or been injured hitting it. Why didn’t the victim evade it? Why didn’t they swerve to either side?

It’s because people would focus all their attention on not hitting the pole. But, our focus determines our direction. If we don’t want to hit the pole, we need to focus on what we do want: staying on the road! By changing our focus, we can change the result.

This lesson applies to how to save your relationship. If you focus on where you don’t want your relationship to end up, fighting and letting anger build, you’ll find yourself where you don’t want to be – either in a painful, unfulfilling relationship or separated from your partner altogether. If you focus on resolving conflict and growing together, you’ll get the outcomes that you do want.

2. Communicate

You’re sitting in a coffee shop. There are two couples in the shop sitting near you. The couple to your left is arguing about whether they want to go to dinner with friends. He says, “It’s never fun – you said so yourself last time.” She responds, “Of course you would say that, because they’re my friends, and you’ve never given any of my friends a chance.” He rolls his eyes, and in a very sarcastic tone says, “Here we go. War and Peace, our personal edition, volume whatever.” They turn away from each other and sit in silence.

how to resolve conflict in a relationship

The couple to your right is also discussing whether they want to go to dinner with friends. He says, “I guess I’m a little worried that it will go on for hours and that it might not be that fun. What do you think?” She says, “I get that. I really want to go, but maybe we can plan a time when we have to leave as a compromise?” She continues, touching his hand and smiling, “Besides, it will be nice to get home early.” He smiles and nods, and they continue to read and drink their coffee.

Both couples were presented with a conflict – the same conflict, in fact. But one knew how to resolve conflict in a relationship, and the other did not. One reacted by relying on bad habits and used the conflict to widen a rift between them. The other used the conflict as an opportunity to communicate their feelings and grow their relationship. Which couple do you think has the more successful, fulfilling relationship? Which relationship do you think will last longer? Communication is essential to resolving disagreements in relationships.

3. Turn conflict into opportunity

In the coffee shop example, one couple has discovered how to resolve conflict in a relationship: don’t treat it as a competition. Why would you want your partner, the person you love, to lose? When you accept that there are no losers in love, you can let go of petty arguments and embrace healthy communication. 

Conflicts are opportunities for you and your partner to align on values and outcomes. They are chances to understand, appreciate and embrace differences. Put yourself in your partner’s place and make an effort to understand their experience. These experiences and emotions can be uncomfortable, but if we always opt for comfort then we never grow.

Conflict is also an opportunity to learn more about your partner and love them on an even deeper level. Learn to see conflicts as transitions to something better, rather than as reasons to retreat. The next time you find yourself disagreeing with your partner and wondering how to save your relationship, choose to see the positive in the situation and actively decide to work toward a more stable future together.

4. Use humor

If you find yourself in a retaliatory spiral, a good tactic is to use humor to break the pattern. Humor can release tension and allow you and your partner to focus on what you both want – learning how to save your relationship – rather than on what you both don’t want, another pointless argument. If you feel an argument escalating, take a moment to derail it. Argue while talking like Christopher Walken or William Shatner. Sing a song that makes your partner laugh. Make the conflict ridiculous.

relationship conflict

To illustrate this point, let’s return to the coffee shop example. You see an older couple. The man accidentally spills his tea all over the table and some splashes onto his wife’s favorite dress. He gets up for some napkins, and she smiles and jokes aloud to the other customers, “For 20 years he’s been doing this to me – never finished a cup yet!” He comes back, dabs the tea off her and jokes back to the other patrons, “She was asking for it!” They both laugh, and you do too, along with everyone else in the shop.

Some couples would have turned the situation into an argument, but by using humor to nip the retaliatory spiral in the bud, this husband and wife seized the moment and turned it into an opportunity to practice how to resolve conflict in a relationship.

5. Ask the right questions

If you’re wondering how to save your relationship, chances are that things have been going wrong for quite some time. You need to not only dig into the past to uncover the real, deeper issues, but also look to the future. It’s all about asking yourself the right questions. 

First, ensure you’re beginning this exercise from the right mindset. The point is not to place blame, dig up old arguments or tell your partner all the things they do that annoy you. You must change your mindset to one of gratitude and acceptance. Embrace the fact that life is happening for you, not to you. Even the current state of your relationship is presenting you with the chance to learn and grow – so long as you are open to what it has to tell you.

Now you’re ready to ask yourself essential questions: Why did your relationship break down? What are the limiting beliefs you and your partner have been living by that have affected your relationship? How can you overcome them? And what do you want for the future? What will your relationship focus on?

6. Practice acceptance

Apply your new abundance mindset to your partner. All our partners have habits that annoy us, because no human being is perfect. Instead of dwelling on their negative traits, focus instead on what they bring to the table, how they make you feel and the qualities that you love. You’ll find that you’ll soon start to miss even the things that used to drive you crazy, because they are part of that whole person, your partner, whom you adore.

uncertainty in relationships

Remember the two couples at the café? The successful couple who put energy into understanding each other’s needs reaffirmed their support for one another – she supported his need to leave at a certain hour and he supported her need to socialize with friends. They communicated with each other, assessed one another’s needs and made it a fun issue to solve instead of letting something minor turn into a major argument.

Listen to your partner, understand what they’re saying and why they feel the way they do. And be accepting of yourself too: Be honest about your own feelings and emotions. Be your authentic self. Personal flaws aren’t the reason you’re asking how to save your relationship. They’re actually a powerful tool to show your partner just how much you love them.

7. Be aware of your negative patterns

Humans are creatures of habit. We all have patterns, both positive and negative, that affect our decisions and behaviors. We may automatically respond defensively to our partners or turn inward and blame ourselves for relationship conflict – closing off, but eventually exploding. Many of us resort to standbys like giving our partners space or even the silent treatment. 

If anyone asked you if you knew how to resolve conflict, you’d probably say yes, and if they asked you whether the silent treatment or ignoring the problem were smart ways to deal with conflict, you’d almost certainly say no. You know better than to resort to these silly tactics, but if you’re hurt enough, you do it anyway. Why? Why fall back on negative patterns instead of working to actually fix the communication issues at hand?

8. Work on forgiveness

seeing things from others’ perspectives

If you’re wondering how to save your relationship because your trust was broken, you’re probably feeling angry, bitter, hurt, mistrustful and a whole host of other negative emotions. If you’re the person who broke the trust, you’re feeling guilty and ashamed. You may even try to blame your partner or justify your actions. In this situation, both partners need to work on forgiveness.

You won’t just wake up one day and magically feel forgiving toward your partner. Forgiveness is a process. It’s a series of small acts – admitting mistakes, practicing total honesty and putting your partner first – that add up over time. Forgiveness takes work.

If you’re the partner that broke the trust, you must take full responsibility. Be respectful of how you hurt your partner, and give them the space they need. Put your partner first, and don’t fall into a cycle of self-blame. If your trust was broken, take some space, but continue to communicate. Let your partner know what you need to rebuild trust. Most of all, never give up.

9. Make time for touch

When you’re always fighting with your partner – when every little thing they do annoys you – it can be hard to be affectionate. But you must make time for touch. This doesn’t just mean sex – it also means cuddling on the couch during a movie, sneaking a morning hug before work and holding hands for no reason at all.

There’s a reason that touching your partner makes you feel so good: Cuddling, hugging and even holding hands cause the release of oxytocin, a “feel-good” chemical in your brain that makes you feel safe and loved. Oxytocin can lower stress, help you sleep, make you feel more connected to your partner and even decrease blood pressure. You get all those benefits just from reaching over and taking your partner’s hand.

Don’t withhold physical affection – even when you’re mad – or you could find yourself in a completely sexless marriage. If you really want to solve relationship conflict, start with physical touch. Cuddle before bedtime. Hold hands when you’re out to dinner with friends. Sneak a kiss as you’re making dinner. Physical affection isn’t a result of a happy relationship – it creates a happy relationship.

Relationships aren’t easy. We are all human – and humans make mistakes. We have flaws. Sometimes, we just don’t put in the work we need to and we let our relationships fall by the wayside. By the time we start looking into how to resolve conflict in a relationship, it may have been neglected for years. But remember this: Many relationships are worth saving. You just need to be willing to do the work.

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Relationship conflict FAQs
Is conflict good or bad for a relationship?

Conflict isn’t necessarily good or bad for a relationship. If both partners have good communication skills and see conflict as an opportunity to grow, learn and make the relationship stronger, conflict can even be a good thing. But when disagreements in relationships make you feel attacked or threatened, vulnerable and weak, this can make you recoil and retreat – and be very bad for your relationship.

When things your partner does upset you and you feel that you’re under siege, you’re less likely to respond constructively and more likely to resort to unhealthy behaviors. This type of conflict is harmful for any relationship.

How do you know if a relationship is worth saving?

Even if you feel lost and alone, know that nearly all of the time your relationship is worth saving. You have history. You’ve been through a lot together – many relationships last years or even decades before getting to this point. Your partner knows you better than anyone else, and they will be there for you like no one else will be.

If you still have fun with your partner and can’t imagine your life without them – even if you have frequent relationship conflict – that’s a strong sign your relationship is worth saving. If you have the same values, have created a shared vision for your life together and still make each other smile, it’s not yet time to let go.

Can my unhappy relationship even be saved?

When both partners are truly committed to making it work, anything is possible. It’s easy to blame relationship conflict on your partner or events outside your control, but the truth is that it’s an internal conflict. That is, many problems in relationships aren’t truly about the relationship itself and would surface no matter who you were with.

Watch the video below to hear Tony talk with experts about letting go of fear, the power of forgiveness and how to save your relationship.

Want to learn how to handle conflict in a relationship?

Trade your expectation for appreciation and build a stronger bond with your partner using the 9 Keys to Passion & Intimacy.