chris roberts couples counselor


We all have conflict in our relationships. There is no way to avoid it. We may become masters at suppressing conflict or “sweeping things under the rug,” but conflict exists nonetheless. Further, the longer we are with our partners the more we become to realize how different we are from each other. Without warning, we may find ourselves in the age old trap of believing “we have nothing in common and we are completely different people.” The problem of this belief is that it is ALWAYS TRUE and always has been. The more time we spend with each other, the more we will reveal and recognize our differences.

Where this becomes most prevalent is in conflict. Not only does the conflict itself seem to derail our relationships, but the way we address conflict becomes just as detrimental. In an easy-to-read book about dealing with long-term relationships entitled, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by Dr. John Gottman, he outlines the 5 steps for addressing conflict in a productive manner.


The 5 steps for addressing conflict are:

  1. Soften your startup
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
  4. Compromise
  5. Be tolerant of each other’s faults

While all 5 steps are quite important for navigating conflict well, the first step of Softening Your Startup may be the most important. For some reason, we all have a tendency, especially with our closest companions, to jump into conflict with harshness. When the beginning of conflict doesn’t go well it makes it exponentially more difficult to have a productive conversation. And at the end of the day, all conflict boils down to a conversation. Remembering the rules of basic conversation will get us so much further with the ones we love.

When our partner reaches out to make an understanding or reparative comment during conflict, it is vitally important to recognize the conflict as an honest expression of trust and care. If we blow past a repair attempt it reduces the likelihood of anything constructive coming out of the conflict.

Throughout the conversation there will be things our partner says that could easily be taken the wrong way. Part of soothing ourselves and our partner is waiting to respond. We should run our response through a filter of the context of this particular conflict and assess whether it will increase of decrease the ability for each person to hear each other. This is so very hard to do and so necessary for healthy conflict.

Compromise, to me, simply means being willing to negotiate in good-faith. It means realizing we should both be giving a little something extra to each other and to the situation. We should come to the conflict with the expectation that I am going to give a little and then let it play out from there.

Being tolerant of each other is way of saying that we all come to our relationships with a past and with a story. This means that as much as we all wish we were dealing solely in the present, we are effected by and filtering through all our past relationships. We need to be kind to ourselves and kind to our partners in this respect. We are going to misread and misunderstand each other.

This is a simple discussion of one of the most difficult aspects of being in a long-term relationship. If you are having trouble navigating conflict with your partner just reading this article will not be enough. We all have particular nuances of dealing with life and each other. Sometimes, reaching out a to a couples counselor for help is a great resources for finding better ways of dealing with conflict. Chris Roberts is a couples counselor in Nashville, TN with many years of helping couples deal with conflict more effectively and grow closer together. Chris Roberts can be reached at (615) 800-9260 or chris

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