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Understanding Conflict in Relationships: Taking Ownership and Finding Resolution

What is Conflict and What can we Do?

In every relationship, conflict is inevitable. Conflict can be big or small and it’s impacts can be big or small. Whether it’s a minor disagreement or a major clash, how we navigate and resolve these conflicts significantly impacts the health and longevity of our relationships. At my practice, Uplift and Connect Counseling in St. Louis, Mo, I, Katheryn Barton work with you to emphasize the importance of understanding how each partner shows up in conflict and the underlying emotions that drive your very actions and reactions. In this blog let’s explore conflict, how it shows up, the importance of understanding it, where it comes from, how to own our part in and of course what to do with it and how to resolve it. And when fully resolving it isn’t a option, learning how to use conflict to deepen our connection is even better. Setting the goal of understanding as opposed to “fixing” is way more attainable and loving.

The Dynamics of Conflict

Conflict often arises from differing perspectives, needs, or values between partners. It’s not just about the surface-level disagreement but also about the emotions and vulnerabilities that underpin these conflicts. Each person brings their own experiences, triggers, and communication styles into the mix, which can either escalate or diffuse the situation. When we think about how we react in situations like when we get angry, and we ask ourselves “what am I angry about? Was there something that showed up before my anger? Something softer? Am I embarrassed? Or hurt?” Oftentimes, anger is connected to a more vulnerable feeling that is more fleeting and that we pass over and reach anger. When this happens, anger is what our partner sees. Not the vulnerable pieces. This plays a big role in how we understand each other and thus how we show up for each other.

In my work, I like to discuss the importance of being able to recognize these softer feelings and underlying dynamics. Conflict isn’t inherently negative, and it doesn’t have to cause distance within relationships. If we see it as an opportunity for connection and growth toward better understanding, we can use it as a tool for connection. Bring on that empathy!

How Individuals Show Up in Conflict

In any conflict, individuals may exhibit a range of behaviors influenced by their emotional state and past experiences. Some may become defensive, others may withdraw, while some might become aggressive or passive-aggressive. Understanding these responses is crucial because they provide insights into deeper emotional needs and triggers.

The ways individuals show up can vary widely, shaped by their emotional landscapes and personal histories. It’s not uncommon for people to react defensively, withdraw, or even display aggressive tendencies in the heat of disagreement. These responses are often rooted in unmet emotional needs or past wounds that influence present-day interactions. Stop for a second and think about a time when you reacted quickly to your partner. What happened? What did it feel like for you, did it spark a sensation or physical response in your body? Then ask yourself where that really came from? Is there a more vulnerable side to that reaction? What about hurt or embarrassment or shame? Oftentimes, a more vulnerable emotion will be masked by a “more socially acceptable” or less vulnerable emotion. Then compare how you showed up to your partner to how you are really feeling inside.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) offers a profound approach to unraveling these dynamics. By delving into the underlying emotions and attachment patterns driving these reactions, EFT helps individuals and couples understand their behaviors within conflict. This therapeutic method fosters a deeper awareness of oneself and the other, promoting healthier ways to communicate and resolve issues. Ultimately, EFT empowers individuals to navigate conflict with empathy, fostering stronger, more resilient relationships.

woman with dark hair lying on her back with both hands covering her face

The Importance of Understanding and Sharing

Beneath the surface of our conflicts lie these aforementioned unspoken emotions and needs. Anger, frustration, fear, sadness—these emotions often drive our behaviors in moments of conflict. Acknowledging and expressing these feelings in a healthy manner can transform how conflicts unfold.

Sharing our more vulnerable feelings is essential for fostering genuine connections and deepening intimacy in relationships. However, it can be incredibly challenging. As humans, we are wired to protect ourselves, often resorting to defense mechanisms that shield our vulnerabilities. Yet, when we refrain from expressing our true emotions, we risk feeling isolated and misunderstood. The difficulty lies in finding healthy ways to articulate our deeper feelings without fear of judgment or rejection. It requires courage to unveil our innermost thoughts and emotions, as well as a supportive environment where we feel safe to be authentic. Life, conflict, and emotional safety do not exist in isolation; they are intertwined elements of human experience that shape our relationships and overall well-being. By embracing vulnerability and cultivating open communication, we not only enrich our connections with others but also nurture a sense of fulfillment and emotional resilience in navigating life’s complexities together.

Since many conflicts stem from unmet emotional needs. By recognizing and validating these underlying feelings, couples can begin to address the root causes of their disagreements.

Taking Responsibility: A Path to Resolution

One of the cornerstones of effective conflict resolution is the willingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions and responses. It’s not about assigning blame or proving who is right or wrong, but rather about acknowledging and owning how each individual contributes to the dynamics of the conflict. Taking responsibility involves introspection and recognizing the impact of our words, behaviors, and decisions on others and the situation at hand. It requires humility and a commitment to understanding the deeper motivations behind our actions. By embracing responsibility, we empower ourselves to actively participate in finding solutions and repairing relationships. This proactive approach not only fosters mutual respect and empathy but also paves the way for meaningful dialogue and sustainable resolution.

Taking responsibility is an act of maturity and empathy. It means acknowledging your part in the conflict without diminishing or dismissing the other person’s perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it is also vulnerable to admit our own roles in conflict but when we can let go of that defense and both who up authentically and accepting we can get to the root of things more easily and then decide “where to go from here.”

two men embracing one with his arms around the other both looking into the distance

Ownership vs. Blame: Clarifying the Difference

In navigating relationships and conflicts, it’s crucial to differentiate between ownership and blame. Blame tends to provoke defensiveness and hostility, hindering constructive dialogue and resolution. Oftentimes, as soon as we hear the word you or notice our partner coming to us with something that looks or feels negative, we jump to defensiveness. We feel like we didn’t do or mean to do anything wrong and feel misunderstood and therefore it feels important to feel heard and share what our intentions are. The problem here is that at this point our partner can’t hear that just as we can’t hear the complaint. And away we go in a cycle where neither partner feels seen or understood.

Taking ownership, on the other hand, involves acknowledging one’s own role in the dynamics without casting blame on oneself or others. When both parties in a relationship take ownership of their actions and reactions, they cultivate accountability and empathy. This approach fosters an atmosphere conducive to mutual understanding, growth, and ultimately, resolving conflicts more effectively. We do this by approaching out partner with our own perspectives and feelings about what happened. 

It feels a lot different to hear, “when I heard —— my feelings got hurt and I walked away.” As opposed to, “when you said —– you hurt my feelings and I can’t stand it.” 

By prioritizing ownership over blame, individuals not only strengthen their relationships but also promote personal and relational growth. We can promote ownership by stating our feelings, how things affected us and how we responded. Ownership is about being accountable for our actions and their impact. It’s about recognizing that each person’s reality and feelings are valid, even if they differ from your own. We can also take this a step further and get curious about how it affected our partner. Remember to take your time, slow down and if things start to escalate take a break and try again later.

male and female couple looking at each other female comforting with a hand on other's shoulder

Showing Up and Taking Responsibility

So, let’s get more detail about what this looks like. How can individuals show up and take responsibility during conflicts? It starts with self-awareness and empathy. Here are practical steps:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take a moment to reflect on your emotional state before reacting. Are you feeling hurt, misunderstood, or defensive?
  2. Active Listening: Truly listen to your partner’s perspective without interrupting or preparing a rebuttal. Validate their feelings even if you don’t agree with their point of view. If you have questions or things don’t make sense to you it’s ok to get curious and ask questions.
  3. Empathetic Response: Respond with empathy and understanding. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without blaming or accusing. Avoid “you” statements and make comments from your own perspective.
  4. Seeking Understanding: Ask clarifying questions to better understand your partner’s feelings and perspective. This demonstrates respect and a genuine desire to resolve the conflict.
The Transformative Power of Responsibility

The transformative power of responsibility is profound especially in relationships. Rather than pointing fingers or placing blame, embracing responsibility opens doors to sincere understanding and deeper connections. When both parties in a relationship wholeheartedly embrace this mindset, conflicts cease to be stumbling blocks and instead become stepping stones for growth and intimacy. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) serves as a guiding light in this journey, providing a safe space under the skilled guidance of a couples therapist. Through EFT, couples learn to navigate conflicts with empathy and clarity, fostering a dialogue that honors each other’s perspectives and emotions. This therapeutic approach not only resolves immediate conflicts but also strengthens the emotional bond, paving the way for a more resilient and fulfilling relationship.

One reason I love my work so much is because I get to see couples move from stuck places to place of acceptance, understanding a love. As they learn healthier conflict resolution strategies they also learn to connect on a deeper more supportive level. By helping them take ownership of their emotions and actions, I’ve seen couples build trust and resilience like they haven’t before.

Final Thoughts

In navigating the complexities of conflict within relationships, embracing it as a catalyst for growth becomes not just a strategy but a profound philosophy. The dynamics of conflict reveal how individuals show up—often with emotions that are raw and complex. Understanding these underlying feelings is crucial, as it illuminates where we often get stuck in recurring patterns. How we navigate these conflicts determines the strength and longevity of our relationships. Taking responsibility emerges as a pivotal path towards resolution, distinguished by its focus on ownership rather than blame. By showing up authentically and embracing responsibility, relationships are not only healed but strengthened. This transformative power lies in the willingness to engage with conflict constructively, fostering empathy, understanding, and ultimately, a deeper connection with ourselves and others. Embracing conflict, therefore, becomes not just a challenge to overcome but an opportunity to truly grow and flourish in our relationships.

Conflict isn’t the problem. It’s how we approach and resolve it that matters. By embracing responsibility and empathy, couples can transform conflict into an opportunity for deeper connection and understanding. If you’re in Missouri and seeking guidance on navigating conflicts in your relationship, consider reaching out to me, Katheryn Barton at Uplift and Connect Counseling. Let’s embrace conflict as a catalyst for growth and learn to navigate it with empathy, understanding, and ownership. You and your relationship are worth it!


~Katheryn Barton

outside photo of blonde woman smiling warmly in a blue shirt Katheryn Barton with Uplift and Connect Counseling