It's worth the effort to try repairing a disruptive relationship bogged down in verbal conflict.
It's worth the effort to try repairing a disruptive relationship bogged down in verbal conflict.

Not feeling the love? Four top tips to manage conflicts

FEBRUARY is the month of love for many, but for others no amount of red roses and decadent chocolates can repair a disruptive relationship that is bogged down in verbal conflict.

Working on repairing relationships can be a complicated process with various options of how to tackle the challenge.

The team at the University of California's Greater Good Science Centre offer four suggestions on where to start when confronted by what they term The Four Horsemen - conflict, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

The first step is to identify the nature of the conflict and then try the appropriate coping strategy from the list below.


Criticism in this case is negative judgements or proclamations about your partner in extreme, absolute terms.

You may be using the if use never and always. For example, 'You never think about anyone but yourself!' or, 'You are always so stubborn!'.

Criticism isn't necessarily a recipe for relationship failure unless it is excessive or extreme criticism.

Try to criticise in a way that focuses on your own feelings and how your partner's behaviour affects you.

Mention specific negative behaviours rather than making global attacks on his or her entire personality, such as 'I feel neglected when you make plans without me' rather than 'You are so inconsiderate!'.


Contempt is a destructive form of criticism and involves treating your partner with disrespect, disgust, condescension, or ridicule.

It may involve sarcasm, mockery, eye-rolling, sneering, or even name-calling and it can grow over time.

Instead of keeping score of what you don't like, look for positive qualities and what you appreciate most about your partner.

Keep a written copy of the list as a good prompt if needed in the future.


Defensiveness arises when people feel criticised or attacked and involves making excuses to avoid taking responsibility, or even deflecting blame onto your partner.

Even if your partner makes mistakes, that doesn't free you from responsibility for things you could have done differently as well.

Defensiveness communicates that you aren't really listening to your partner and taking his or her concerns seriously, and by introducing new grievances, it can also exacerbate the conflict by making your partner feel attacked and defensive.

Take the time to hear your partner out and take responsibility when appropriate.

A simple, genuine apology can go a long way.


Stonewalling involves putting up a metaphorical wall between you and your partner by withdrawing, shutting down, and physically and emotionally distancing yourself from your partner by becoming silent or leaving the conflict without explaining where or why you are going.  

It is possibly the most destructive to relationships of all the Four Horsemen because it can make a partner feel abandoned and rejected.

Trying taking some deep breaths and collecting your thoughts before returning to the conversation.

The researchers also recommend taking the time to note what coping strategies worked for you and what didn't so that if needed again, you can prepare other ways to help smooth the path to a happier relationship.

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