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Relationship advice: this is the best way to overcome conflict in your relationship, according to science

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Lauren Geall
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Conflict resolution

The science has spoken: this method of resolving conflict with your partner will not only help you to restore the happiness in your relationship, it could actually make it stronger.

Merging your life with someone else’s is hard. It sees you mix friends and families, share attitudes on money, blend passions and hobbies – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So it’s hardly surprising, then, that there’ll be disagreements and arguments along the road.

While we don’t relish the thought of fighting with a loved one, though, having the occasional argument doesn’t need to be cause for concern.

Actually, fighting has actually proven to be a healthy thing in the long-run, as long as couples approach disputes with a “positive, solutions-focused mentality”.

It’s all well and good saying that we should approach arguments with a solutions-focused mentality, but what are the best ways to reach these solutions? Are there some methods of resolution which work better than others? That allow couples to learn from their differences and move forward? Now, thanks to research, we know the answer is yes.

A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology has found that there is such a thing as the “best way” to move past a conflict, and it’s probably a lot more obvious than you might think. Scientifically termed “active repair,” this approach includes any behaviour that leads to the restoration of affection: the psychological version of “kiss and make up,” basically.

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The study, which was conducted by psychologist Julie Parsons and a team of scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas, asked 115 cohabiting couples to keep an online diary where they recorded any conflict they had and what they then did to resolve the disagreement. The psychologists then grouped these responses into four different categories of conflict resolution: avoidance, active repair, gaining a new perspective and letting go.

The study leaders then recruited another 226 couples and repeated the study, asking them to categorise their resolution technique into one of the four categories. They also asked them to document their daily moods, any depressive symptoms, overall relationship satisfaction, and intimacy. 

What is the best way to resolve a fight? Man and woman sat not talking.
Relationship advice: The secret to a "healthy" argument has been revealed.

What they discovered was probably not surprising. They found that by engaging in active repair – which includes everything from apologising and reaching an agreement to having make-up sex (only when you both want to, of course). 

Perhaps the more surprising revelation to come from the study was the news that engaging in active repair after a fight with your partner won’t just restore your relationship back to its previous level of happiness – it has the potential to push the relationship to an even higher level of intimacy than before.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, avoidance is a no-go if you want to resolve any relationship disagreements. While it’s true that couples won’t always find a solution or come to a point of agreement, it’s important that you take the time to at least agree on a way to move past the disagreement if you want to be in a happy place with your partner.

At the end of the day, no one likes an argument. But they’re also the things that allow you to build the foundation of a strong, healthy relationship. So next time you get in an argument, take some time to think about your next move – your relationship may be better off because of it.

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This article was originally published 29 September 2019. 

Images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

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