8 Tips for Managing Conflicts with the People You Live With

Home is supposed to be a safe place where you can relax and escape life’s stressors - but that can be tough when you’re butting heads with someone you live with. A roommate who leaves dishes lying around, an in-law who criticizes your parenting,, or everyday squabbles with your spouse or kids can make home feel more sour than sweet. If you don’t resolve your conflicts in healthy ways, the growing tension can strain or even ruin your relationships.  

Could you cut the tension in your house with a knife? If so, put the knife down and try these tools instead:

1. Check your conflict style

There are 3 conflict management styles. Let’s explore them with an example of a wife who’s feeling frustrated because her husband throws his dirty clothes on the floor: (Disclaimer: we know not all men do this!)

Passive – Fearful, avoids addressing conflict, let’s problem “boil up”

  • Example: Wife never expresses her frustration and just gets angrier each day while her husband continues to throw clothes on the floor, having no clue why she’s upset.

Aggressive – Hostile, rejecting, and critical of the other person

  • Example: “For the hundredth time put your clothes in the hamper you filthy &!%*!”

Assertive – Strong, confident, explains position and boundaries in a calm and neutral tone to avoid being verbally aggressive

  • Example: (With a calm voice)“Honey, I feel anxious when I see dirty clothes laying around the house. Can you put your clothes in the hamper? Thank you.”

Being assertive is the most effective style in successfully dissolving conflict. Recognize if you are being passive or aggressive and try to think of more assertive ways to communicate.

2. Use “I”-statements

No matter how right you are, the other person will tune you out if they start to feel defensive. This can be avoided by using “I”-statements to explain your issue without getting hostile or accusative. Insert your problem in the template below to generate your perfect “I”-statement:

“I feel _________ when _________ because ________. I need is________, please.”

3. Blame the problem, not the person

When the electrical bill skyrockets because your wife keeps forgetting to turn the lights off, it can be easy to lash out at her in anger. Try to stop yourself from attacking the other person and focus your conversation on addressing the problem itself.

Example: “Babe, I’m feeling stressed about our electrical bill getting so high. What can we do to help you remember to turn the lights off when you leave the house?”

4. Don’t try to mind-read

We put ourselves through unnecessary grief when we assume we know what others are thinking. “My roommate must think I’m her maid since she leaves food wrappers all over the place.” “My step-son must hate me since he always wants to be alone in his room.” Whatever issue is peeving you, try not to assume what’s on the other person’s mind. Our assumptions are often worse than reality, causing undue suffering for us, and unfair resentment toward our loved ones.

5. Validate their perspective

No matter how you feel about the other person’s side of things, they’re more likely to respect your feelings if you express validation for theirs. Ask them how they think and feel about the situation at hand. Listen to what they have to say, reflect it back to them, and let them know you understand their concerns.

Example:

Boyfriend tells his girlfriend, “I feel angry that you’ve given your mom a key to our apartment because I feel like I don’t have privacy when she comes in unexpectedly. How do you feel about asking her to give back the key?”

Girlfriend: “With both of us working so much I just really like having my mom able to come walk the dogs or be there when we need the cable guy out or things like that.”

Boyfriend (reflecting back what she said): “I get it, we both do work a lot and it’s nice to be able to rely on someone to help with the dogs and appointments we can’t make. Is there a boundary you’d feel comfortable setting with her – like telling she can only come over if she’s invited or calls first?”

6. Set healthy boundaries

After expressing your feelings, the next important step is to propose some boundaries that will ensure your needs are met. A healthy boundary shows respect for both perspectives, but sets limits to let the other person know you will not let their needs be met at your expense. Explain your boundaries both calmly and clearly. Don’t worry if the other person doesn’t completely like or understand your limits. You can have a loving and civil relationship without agreeing on everything.

Example (to roommate): “I understand that you love your girlfriend and want her over a lot. But when we signed this lease, the agreement was for the two of us. If she’s going to stay here more than 3 nights a week we’ll need to discuss how the rent should be shared between 3 people, or if we should consider finding different living arrangements.”

7. Manage expectations

Don’t go into the conversation expecting a bad outcome. If you address the conflict with a positive attitude, you’re more likely to end with a positive result. While it’s important to stick to your values, you should also keep an open mind toward mutually agreeable compromises and know when to let things go. If you’re stuck in a lease or know that you’re going to be living with this person for a while, it’s in your best interest to prioritize your relationship over “winning” the argument.

8. Mend with mediation

When tensions are high and a conflict feels impossible to overcome, it’s helpful to get an objective third party involved. Sometimes a friend or relative can serve as an objective sounding board, but if you feel like you need additional support in resolving your conflict, a specialist in Family Psychology can provide therapy and mediation to come up with effective solutions for moving past conflict.

Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in Child and Educational psychology. If you’re bumping heads with your child or teen, Dr. Shinn can provide consulting and recommend support.

Dr. Elsa Torres, Psy.D., is a specialist in counseling and is experienced in helping families overcome conflict and strengthen their relationships. If your family could use some support in working through challenges, Dr. Torres can help.

Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout life. If you’re a woman struggling to get along with someone you live with, Dr. Davis can listen and support you.  

Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men and teenage boys through life’s transitions. If conflict is impacting you or a guy in your life, Dr. Sample can help.     

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References:

Alabama A&M University & Auburn Universities. Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Module 2: Conflict Management. http://www.aces.edu/teens/pdf/mod2.pdf

Edmonds Community College (2018). Conflict Resolution Skills: Managing and Resolving Conflict in a Positive Way. Retrieved online: https://www.edcc.edu/counseling/documents/Conflict.pdf

Fairfax County Public Schools Department of Special Services. 10 Lessons for Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills.

Fenichel, Marilyn (2018). Resolving Conflict Lesson Plan Sections. Discovery Education. https://www.discoveryeducation.com/teachers/free-lesson-plans/resolving-conflicts.cfm

Leutenberg, E.A., Liptak, J.J. (2011). Teen Conflict Management Skills Workbook. Retrieved online: https://wholeperson.com/pdf/TeenConflictWorkbook.pdf

Mueller, L. (2018). 5 Common Roommate Problems (and How to Fix Them). Moving.com. Retrieved from https://www.moving.com/tips/5-common-roommate-problems-and-how-to-fix-them/

RaisingChildren.net (2019). Conflict Management with Teenagers. Retrieved online: https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/communicating-relationships/communicating/conflict-management-with-teens

Shinn, M.M. (2018). How to Care for Aging Parents While Raising a Family: 8 Tips for the Sandwich Generation. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post].  Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/how-to-care-for-aging-parents-while-raising-a-family-8-tips-for-the-sandwich-generation

Shinn, M.M. (2018). Home for the Holidays: How to Get Along with Relatives that Drive You Nuts. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post].  Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/home-for-the-holidays-how-to-get-along-with-relatives-that-drive-you-nuts

Shinn. M.M. (2018). Why Can’t I Say No?! The Woman’s Holiday Guide to Stop People-Pleasing. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/the-womans-holiday-guide-to-stop-people-pleasing

Shinn. M.M. (2018). Operation Anger Man-agement! A Guy’s Guide to Understanding His Inner Hulk. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/operation-anger-man-agement

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Repairing Your Home-Sweet-Home: 7 Tips for Conflict Management. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/8-tips-for-managing-conflicts-with-the-people-you-live-with