Doing Life Together

couple conflictWe all have that person in our lives that drives us crazy and personalizes conflict, making it difficult to handle.

Here are five points to keep in mind when dealing with a high conflict person.

  • Choose your battles. Since most high-conflict people love the battle, minimize your contact with that person when you can. When you do engage, resist the urge to defend yourself, which only ends in more conflict.
  • Set a structure for conflict discussion and talk about expectations. Establish rules for fair fighting, such as no yelling, name-calling, interrupting, etc. It may help to meet in a public place to keep emotions in check.
  • Try to stay calm. When the emotion intensifies, say something like, “We can revisit this when we are both calmer.” The person in the conflict can own part of the problem, rather than singling out the high-conflict person for being so unreasonable. Remember that if the mood is intensifying, you want to calm down the situation. Don’t match the intensity or it will become a contest.
  • Relate to the person around tasks that need to be done or possible solutions rather than reacting to their emotions. Emotions distract from the issue at hand, so keep the issue front and center. Focus only on behavior. Think like a detective: “Just the facts.” Trying to work through emotions usually leads to more blame.
  • Assess your safety. If there are dangerous behaviors like domestic violence or behaviors that could be fatal to the relationship, for example, serial infidelity or out-of-control spending, then you need to make sure you are safe and controls are in place. Other than that, the goal with high-conflict people is to reduce conflict.

Patience is needed with high conflict people. Change is often slow but can happen with commitment to the process and desire to work on the relationship. The person has to experience calmer approaches and see that working through issues can be done and accomplishes more than acting in extreme ways.


Adapted from We Need to Talk by Linda Mintle, Ph.D. (Baker Books, 2015).



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